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January 06, 2011

Oprah's OWN Kicks Off the New TV Year

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Last weekend's launch of Oprah Winfrey's new cable TV network, OWN, was a milestone in TV history and Oprah history: a self-made, black woman starting her own television network using her personal life lessons as the guiding vision for all the programming. It's all Oprah, all the time, even when she's not actually in the show you're watching. Based on the few shows I've sampled, Oprah's off to a flying start.

Image: OWN, Oprah Winfrey Network

Last weekend's launch of Oprah Winfrey's new cable TV network, OWN, was a milestone in TV history and Oprah history: a self-made, black woman starting her own television network using her personal life lessons as the guiding vision for all the programming. It's all Oprah, all the time, even when she's not actually in the show you're watching.

Based on the few shows I've sampled, Oprah's off to a flying start.

OWN is a lifestyle channel that has the highest production values money can buy, first rate talent producing the shows and a firm vision of what it wants to be.

Here's a rundown of the shows I've seen so far and what I thought of them:

Image: OWN, Oprah Winfrey Network


Oprah presents Master Class with guest Jay-Z



This hour long interview show focuses on one guest a week. It's beautifully shot, against a mottled grey background with the interview subject telling their story directly into the camera. The episode with hip hop music mogul Jay-Z offered his thoughts on growing up in a dangerous section of Brooklyn, writing rap lyrics as a way to express himself, and what he feels it means to be a man.

With all the snapshot TV soundbite interviews were accustomed to from celebrities, it's refreshing to have just one subject talk to you for an extended period of time. Master Class uses stylized video and graphics as visual adornments, but it's the guest that stays the center of attention.

The only thing I didn't like about the show was when Oprah introduced segments with thoughts of her own about Jay-Z's life and career. Those moments were jarring and hopefully will go away in future shows.

Upcoming guests include Maya Angelou, Lorne Michaels, Simon Cowell and Sidney Poitier.

Image: OWN, Oprah Winfrey Network


Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes 


For those of us who are going to miss "The Oprah Winfrey Show," here's a place to fully immerse yourself in the show one last time. Except this time, it's behind the scenes. For the first time, Oprah allowed a documentary crew to capture the hard work, long hours and crazy mishaps that go into putting "The Oprah Winfrey Show" together.

The first episode had producers preparing for the 25th season premiere and the announcement that all the audience members would be flying with Oprah to Australia.

The next episode had one set of producers getting ready for a segment and performance from Naomi and Wynonna Judd, while other staffers prepared a followup show about West Virginia residents and their fears about AIDS.

When it comes to production values, the show has the feel of "The Apprentice" or "Project Runway" with its fast paced narrative, "what they're thinking" interviews, and fly-on-the-wall presence at production meetings and rehearsals.

One thing viewers will learn is how much attention to detail goes into such an involved TV production. For example, when Oprah arrives for the show in West Virginia, she's supposed to tape a standup at a local pool, but summer is over and the pool is filled with green sludge.

Because shooting the most powerful woman in television in front of a sludge-filled pool simply won't do, technical camera tricks are used to make the sludge less obvious and the pool more photogenic.


Image: OWN, Oprah Winfrey Network


 Kidnapped by the Kids


This show takes a modern familial complaint -- a workaholic parent -- and gives the solution in the form of kids waylaying the wayward parent.

The premiere has two cute but Dad-starved kids corralling Dad at the airport, confiscating his cellphone and laptop and taking him and Mom camping. Dad comes to learn it's tough to give up the old BlackBerry but even tougher to hear that your son feared you had another family because you travel so much.

Though the message was all very "Cat's in the Cradle" and its heart was in the right place, this was my least favorite show. The Dad was a bit of a drip and the Mom somewhat whiny. I also have a feeling the formula may get tired, but hey, "Undercover Boss" is still on the air, so who knows?



In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman


Do you miss Ruth Westheimer and the days of explicit, non-porno sex talk on TV? Then this show is for you. Each week sex therapist, Dr. Laura Berman will work with a couple whose sex life has hit the skids.

And first off, can I just take my hat off to these courageous couples who tell us in explicit detail all about their sexual problems? Good on them for braving the snickers of neighbors and friends for the greater sexual good of the American public.

Up first is a couple where the wife wants her husband to take more of a lead in bed but when he does, all she does is criticize. He doesn't know how to kiss, his technique is not right, after all these years, he should know what to do already.

Yeah, that's what she said.

However with Dr. Berman's help, the couple uses homework assignments and intimacy exercises to get back their loving ways. And wait 'til you see how the wife puts the family laundry basket to use when it's not carrying clothes.

I liked this show because it puts it all out there. No words are off limits and as far as I'm concerned, TV could use more of that when it comes to educating people about sex.

More Shows On The Way

Other show in the OWN lineup like the cooking show with Cristina Ferrare, or the one about odd medical mysteries, I have no interest in, but that doesn't mean other viewers won't find them entertaining.

In the coming months, Shania Twain, Rosie O'Donnell and the Judds will all have shows on OWN.

Now y'all know I'm a huge Oprah fan, but I had serious doubts about whether she could parlay her messages into programming for the masses on a 24/7 scale. When it comes to show content there's little conflict, nothing snarky, and lessons to be learned from every OWN encounter.

Could some of this feel goodness eventually get boring? Will Oprah eventually give in and produce a reality show about Bad Girls Gone Wild in the streets of Chicago?

After checking out the OWN sampling, I'd say no. Look at O Magazine. Oprah started it with a strict vision of what it would and would not be and we all know how successfully that turned out. She's done the same here and as long as she continues to give her viewers the kind of quality they expect from her, OWN should be around for quite a long time.

Related Links:

Creole in DC at Rantings of a Creole Princess loved "Master Class" with Jay-Z and OWN:

I have an addictive personality...AS YALL KNOW...so I ALREADY KNOW that I'm going to be straight up ADDICTED to OWN.

Peggy Sue at Peggy Sue's Perspective is upset that Discovery Health is no more because of OWN, isn't a fan of The Oprah Winfrey Show, but nonetheless watched and enjoyed "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes":

I watched the first 2 episodes of it and I liked it. I like the making of and the behind the scenes type of shows so it peeked my curiosity. You get to see the inner working of TV production while seeing a side of Oprah that nobody ever gets to see. I will probably keep watching the 25th season behind the scenes show.

Terry Hernon MacDonald at Single Women Rule thinks "Master Class" is the highlight of OWN:

I tuned in for the first Master Class with Jay-Z, whom I found interesting, inspiring, and intelligent. He gave an unflinching account of having grown up without his father, who disappeared one day without explanation, and how he tackled the fear of abandonment that resulted and kept others at arm’s length.

Cross Posted from BlogHer.com


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