It didn’t surprise me when Oprah Winfrey announced she was starting her own network. In seventh grade, I was convinced that Oprah was the only person who could stage a coup to take over the American government, deem herself Queen Dictator of Oprahland and get away with it by giving everyone her favorite things. To some degree, this doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.
“Futurama” has likened Oprah to a god, a simile national media outlets love. Her followers are Oprahites, they practice Oprahism and study the Word of Oprah. The Wall Street Journal coined the term “Oprahfication” to describe her talk-show form of therapy. It seems like anything this woman touches turns to gold, so the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) shouldn’t be much different. However, as more details about the network and its programming were revealed, I began to grow skeptical.
On January 1, all the people who regularly watched the Discovery Health channel faced a forced conversion to Oprahism. Discovery Health is that channel that played on the TVs in the doctor’s office waiting room. No one watched it and therefore no one upgraded their cable or satellite package to see it. If anyone wants to watch OWN, they’ll now have to pay up to get access to it.
But she’s Oprah; she doesn’t need channel surfers. She has a lineup of shows hosted by her disciples. Longtime BFF Gayle King is breaking into the talk show business with “The Gayle King Show.” Other talk shows include “Dr. Phil,” “In the Bedroom with Laura Berman,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and “Oprah Presents Master Class” — a more celeb-centric version of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Oprah promised her network wasn’t just going to be her show on repeat, but she never said anything about running other people’s talk shows on repeat.
Between the chatting, OWN will feature cooking shows, home organization shows, movies I’ve never heard of (in “Prelude to a Kiss,” “a young couple’s wedding is disrupted when a mysterious visitor, an elderly man, appears after the ceremony and asks to kiss the bride,” according to the OWN website) and a lot of really weird mystery reality shows.
I can understand people watching Gayle, Rosie and Dr. Phil, but who’s going to watch “Miracle Detectives,” “Mystery Diagnosis” and “Searching For…”? On the OWN website, you can watch a video preview for “Mystery Diagnosis” and the description reads, “His head twists to one side. Will doctors have the answer?” “Mystery Diagnosis” is clearly a lesser version of Discovery Channel’s medical mystery programming.
To be fair, OWN programming is clearly not geared toward me. Still, while Oprah’s followers will revel in the network designed to teach them how to live the Oprah way, there really isn’t any programming you can’t get anywhere else.
All in all, I have mixed feelings toward OWN. Oprah genuinely tries to help people, and her immense following indicates she’s successful. It’s nice to know that new networks can get publicity. I like the idea that television is open to change and that new networks can succeed, but on the other hand, the only reason it will succeed is because of Oprah’s star power. It irritates me that one woman has so much power, that all she has to do is put her name on something and it becomes a mega-success. OWN and Oprah are a true testament to the celeb power that rules the media, but one with a generally positive effect on society.