Oprah Winfrey finally launched her cable channel, OWN, at noon on Saturday, three years and a reported $189 million after she first announced the venture. Soon to be screening in more than 80 million living rooms around the world, the network kicked off with a one-hour preview special, hosted by Oprah Winfrey herself, of course. The bitch-free network’s lineup of shows, thus far, includes:
• Master Class, a series spotlighting prominent people like Diane Sawyer, Jay-Z, and Condoleezza Rice.
• In the Bedroom With Dr. Laura Berman, a show providing counseling to couples who need to repair their sex lives.
• Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, a reality show on which contestants compete for a hosting gig of their own on OWN.
• A reality series with Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York, as she seeks to rebuild her life.
• Miracle Detectives, on which two investigators — one a believer, the other a scientist — explore seeming miracles.
• The Gayle King Show, which is self-explanatory. And long in the making.
• Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, a show about The Oprah Winfrey Show’s final season.
That’s a lot of Oprah and things Oprah likes. So, what do people think so far?
The AP’s Frazier Moore found the kickoff a bit anticlimactic, but promising: “Oprah Winfrey’s network has begun not with a bang but with redeclared purpose … After years in the planning and months of hype, the moment of launch on Saturday was rather quiet … and free of glitz … A soft opening, aimed at whetting viewers’ appetites.” [AP via NYDN]
The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley found the network almost ludicrously earnest: “Most striking for what it lacked: nowhere in that opening gush of feel-good highlight reels, self-improvement plans, spiritual quests, aha! moments, celebrity master classes, and people finding their truths and living their own best lives was there a snicker of malice or a hint of raillery. At times, it seemed almost like a comical conceit, like those movies that pivot on the sudden disappearance of a basic pillar of life, Death Takes a Holiday or even The Invention of Lying. OWN is a place where cynicism takes a holiday and mockery hasn’t yet been invented.” Ultimately, she considers it “a gamble.” [ArtsBeat/NYT]
Salon’s Matt Zoller Seitz finds the whole thing a bit unsettling if ultimately enjoyable: “One of the more disquieting aspects … is the pervasive sense (inevitable, I suppose) that this cable network is not just a programming venture and a brand extension, but a living monument to its creator’s power — and a celebration of her willingness to use that power as a force for good,” he wrote. “We won’t just watch OWN; we will gaze upon it with awe and affection and marvel at the sweet magnificence of its founder.” However, he admitted: “It won me over.” [Salon via HR]
Gawker’s Adrian Chen challenges the notion that the network will encourage viewers to tone down their cynicism, expecting more back-patting: “Oprah’s famous friends [will] talk about how awesome they are. It’s sort of like an infomercial, but for a person.” He added: “Do miracles really exist? No, but that won’t stop OWN from having an entire show about the idiots who believe in them.” [Gawker]
IndieWire’s Caryn James said the fare — fluffy but smart — will appeal to true Oprah believers: “OWN displays a whiff of spirituality, a huge amount of life-style fluff and a surprising layer of substance.” James noted that “only die-hard Winfrey fans would like most of the program,” but: “Beneath the inspirational advice that often sounds like hot air, and the clean-up-your-room mom’s voice, Oprah has a bedrock belief in reason, intelligence and education. That’s what makes her so valuable and OWN so promising to the non-banshees among us.” [IndieWire via Mediaite]