TV Eye: Owning It
Oprah Winfrey expands her brand to a new network
By Belinda Acosta, Fri., Jan. 14, 2011
I have a love/hate relationship with Oprah Winfrey. As a woman of color, I want to be happy that a dynamic, African-American woman is not only doing well but is a major power broker in the media world. However, most of the time, I feel totally out of touch with the woman and the world she caters to. Case in point: The Oprah Winfrey Network, otherwise known as OWN, launched last week. The network's mission statement mirrors her oft-stated advice to "live your best life" – good advice for anyone – but, from the get-go, it was clear that my life is not the life she imagines her audience living. After looking at what was offered on premiere day, I came away with these assumptions that it seems OWN has about its typical viewers:
They have money.
They have children.
They have no self-control.
Fame is valued, and the famous have something to teach us.
Many of the OWN series I viewed were derivative of series seen elsewhere. (They included Enough Already!, a show about reforming hoarders, and Master Class, a first-person, autobiographical, "how I made it" series – the episode I saw featured rapper Jay-Z.) That's not surprising. Everyone steals from everyone else, reconstitutes a product or idea, and delivers it in their distinctive packaging. In the case of OWN programming, that means content is drenched in relentless cheerfulness and/or a sense of determination, ground with a large dose of earnestness, and presented in a safe, easily digested morsel.
There's been much speculation about how the network will do. Is Oprah stressed out? Has she finally reached, in the words of the Peter Principle, her level of incompetence? I suspect Winfrey and her network will do just fine because, if nothing else, Oprah Winfrey is the Queen of Canny Timing. She could not have predicted the horrendous events that took place in Arizona last weekend, but the appearance of OWN and its chipper view on life came just in time. Perhaps what Winfrey has always intrinsically known is that positive, reinforcing thoughts and ideas are always in demand; these days, they are in demand with a renewed urgency. In the past, people may have sought solace in religion, and many still do. But in a time when faith and religion have become a foundation for hate and fearmongering for some (driving many thinking people to declare themselves atheists or adopt the "I'm spiritual" label), a network like OWN, with its veneer of higher thinking that is not too intellectual yet a few shades above greeting card, may be just the thing for restless folks who find themselves fearful in an ever more fear-inducing world.
Of note: Austinite Zach Anner is among the final 10 contestants vying for the opportunity to host his or her own show on OWN. See how he does on Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star. This week, Anner and the other contestants get makeover advice from guest mentor Vera Wang. New episodes of Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star air Fridays at 8pm. Check your cable carrier's listings.
What Else Is On?
Showtime trotted out two new series last Sunday with a most peculiar marketing strategy. Posters would have you believe that Matt LeBlanc (Friends) and William H. Macy (Pleasantville) were the stars of Episodes and Shameless, respectively, but that's misleading. Episodes features Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan as a writing team and married couple whose successful British TV series has been optioned to be re-created in the U.S. LeBlanc barely appears in the premiere episode, and while it's clear he will play a larger role (as the big-name American actor the couple are forced to cast against their wishes), he is not the center of this very funny, deeply cutting look at the Hollywood TV-making machine. As for Shameless, it's the large Gallagher brood (including Emmy Rossum) who are at the center of this dramedy about a drunk (Macy) whose children use their wits to overcome his nightly blackouts, keep the house up and running, and deal with their own issues. Episodes airs at 8:30pm followed by Shameless at 9pm.
As always, stay tuned.