It’s somewhat alarming to me, to see the cynicism and mockery from some journalists regarding OWN, the new Oprah Winfrey network, that just debuted.
It was a long pathway to this point with network heads coming and going (as is the norm with network startups), but judging from the set of programs for Oprah’s new net, I think this is an impressive roster of shows. More importantly it reflects Oprah and her sensibilities. Gayle King’s radio show on TV, that’s a great idea. For many of us, like myself, that don’t have Sirius, it presents an opportunity to see/hear it. For those that do, it’s an opportunity to actually see it. MASTER CLASS, presents JAY-Z, Diane Sawyer, Lorne Michaels and others describing their ascent to success, including their failings along the way. That’s a great idea on any network. Fractured familial relationships being repaired like those of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal’s and The Judds, that’s interesting and relatable to those of us to any human being. Whether you’re in the public eye or not, it’s certainly a relatable topic. Oprah turning her all-star roster of self-help guru’s – Dr. Oz, Suzie Orman, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura Berman, Peter Walsh to help others, well that makes tons of sense on the Oprah Network. ( I will say I’m not a huge fan of Dr. Phil or Suzie Orman and their style because they don’t do what I think Oprah does best, that is – talk kindly and respectfully to the people they are trying to help. I don’t believe yelling harshly at someone to change their life is helpful in any circumstance. Dr. Oz, however, feels like an extension of Oprah, so full of information, but kind, gentle and just looking to help. That being said, they are Oprah all-stars and it makes tons of sense to be included in this venture).
Having seen the first two episodes of Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes, it’s a fascinating show for anyone interested in the TV business. In this case, one of the most fascinating things to me was the fact that there are different teams of producers for each specific show that all work under executive producers, Sheri Salata. Once you see all that goes into each specific show, it more than makes sense. But it’s fascinating to watch. Also any fan of THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, and I count myself among that group, gets to see a side of the show and Oprah herself we’ve never seen before. The first two episodes previewed this weekend, are behind the scenes looks at the jaw dropping Season Premiere and the second ep featured behind the scenes of two shows: The Judds and Oprah’s return to Wilmington, West Virgina, which I wrote about when it first aired. oprahs-wed-show-proves-why-theres-no-one-like-her What’s most fascinating in each show is how certain impactful moments in each show were never guaranteed and your stomach twists along with the specific producers assigned to each show.
I think this is an impressive roster of shows for a debut network and one that completely reflects the brand of its namesake. So I started to wonder why is there is so much scorn by many media types regarding it.
I guess it’s the idea that it is named for Oprah that bothers some, as if that’s the height of narcissism. But anyone that watches Oprah and understands her, knows that even after all of these years, there is much humility to her. I personally find Oprah to represent the last bastion of integrity in this business. In the early 90s when the degrading daytime pendulum swung to big ratings for the Jerry Springer type shows, Oprah made a statement. Not only was she not gonna do those type of shows, she would go in the opposite direction – her show would be a force of good, self-help and growth. If she took a ratings hit, so be it. History has proven that she didn’t and the initial huge swell for the degrading shows has lessened, but there was no guarantee of that. How I wish someone running the entertainment shows today would say “you know what, we’re not gonna devote months of stories on Paris Hilton” etc. It takes someone of integrity to say “I’m not gonna do that”. Oprah is such a person. That, in my humble opinion, is why when she champions a book, movie etc, her viewers trust that and rewards those books, movies with robust sales.
My soapbox aside, I am somewhat astounded that many people want Oprah’s new venture to fail. I think there’s lots of jealousy and envy involved. I remember a few years ago, a New York newspaper columnist wrote a whole diatribe against Oprah regarding her desire to fund and start a new school in Africa. She should be starting that school in the US, this columnist suggested. First of all, as Oprah has said, the kids in Africa were more in need of it and kids in this Country wouldn’t have nearly appreciated it. These kids wanted desperately to go to school. I’ll add my 2 cents here: IT’S HER MONEY. She can do whatever she wants with it. The fact that she wants to make a better life for these girls in Africa says so much of what a special person she is and should be commended. In this case, I feel this journalist was just looking for something to criticize about her.
Oprah represents making one’s life better or as she says “Living Your Best Life” and populates her show with people who have insight on how to accomplish that. There are many people who can’t afford therapy and I think her shows fills that void. She always says “Everyone wants to feel validated, everyone wants to be heard”. I think naming her network OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, isn’t an exercise in narcissism, It’s just telling people in the name what the brand is. It’s no different that calling your network “Women’s Entertainment” or “Game Show Network”. The fact that Oprah has become a brand speaks to her influence. One of the things I think is special about Oprah is that after 25 years and all she had accomplished, including her wealth that she has deservedly accrued, she never talks down to her audience. She asks the questions we at home are asking. She does it with compassion, humility and lack of judgement. That is rare.
I get the sense that Oprah is feeling the pressure. She has said she is nervous and afraid of failure. That is understandable. NO ONE takes any kind of undertaking, especially one as big as this, hoping for anything other than success. But I get the feeling Oprah senses she has people hoping and rooting for her failure and with anything in life, there is no such thing as guaranteed success. I get the feeling Oprah feels if OWN happened not to work, people would never let her forget it. To this let me say, Oprah, even if OWN doesn’t work, it won’t tarnish your legacy. You have helped and influenced tons of people and been dominant in this business for a record 25 years. That can never be undermined. The integrity you represent and the respect you command doesn’t go away. You should be applauded for putting forth a network that represents yourself and focuses on the positivity and self-help your daytime show does.
Personally, I do expect OWN to make a mark and be some kind of a success. It is an extension of Oprah herself and the shows she has displayed thus far, fall directly within her brand. Marketing 101 says know your brand and service that. I believe she is doing that. I have seen successful networks not do that as remotely well on their first day as OWN seems to be, and still be successful. Oprah’s loyal audience will read a book she tells them to. There is no reason to think some shows on OWN (with its diverse slate) won’t appeal to them. Pius with her daytime shows leaving the air this Fall, this will be their chance to get their Oprah fill. Frankly I have no reason but to root for the success of OWN. There aren’t enough Oprahs is this business. We should applaud and commend the ones we have.