The Oprah Winfrey Network: All Oprah, All the Time


Oprah Winfrey Network

It can't be a coincidence that Oprah's new television network debuted on New Year's Day, when millions of Americans list the resolutions that will make them fitter, happier and more productive. As I sat on my couch, ready to start procrastinating on my own resolutions list, Oprah and her flowy white pants set reminded me of my vows to become a better me. With the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), Oprah offers me the tools to pursue that better self: an entire network devoted to teaching me how to live my "best life." Oprah Winfrey is a unique woman, and OWN is a unique network—but this isn't the first time Winfrey has ventured into creating a television channel: in 1998, she was part of the production team that launched Oxygen, conceived as an alternative to women's programming like Lifetime.

While Oxygen was never an Oprah-centric network—and it was sold to NBC Universal in 2007—the channel featured an "Oprah after the show" program from 2003-2006 (Winfrey sold her stake in the network soon after). Oxygen's current iteration is home to reality TV shows like Bad Girls Club and Dance Your Ass Off, and woman-friendly syndicated sitcoms like Roseanne and Living Single. It's successful, but the evolution from edgy women's programming to celebrity-heavy reality shows leaves a void that OWN appears ready to fill: programs and people with which the everyday woman can identify. As a co-founder of Oxygen, Winfrey's editorial input was fairly restricted. But she is chairwoman and chief editor of OWN; she's in total control of this venture, from the talent to the programming. OWN, in a real, tangible sense, is Oprah Winfrey.

If Oxygen was Winfrey testing the network waters, she has taken the plunge with OWN. With its programs devoted to weight loss, fashion, and beauty, Oxygen shows women as they want to be; style vehicles like House of Glam and Running Russell Simmons feature beautiful people and their glitzy lives. OWN's programming goes one step further and shows its audience as Oprah thinks it should be: Dr. Laura Berman's In the Bedroom helps regular women learn to charge of their sex lives. Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag features two regular women on a quest to find the best cookbook recipes. Master Class is an hour-long interview with an influential and important "thinker" (the word "celebrity" seems to be forbidden) who shares his/her life lessons with the viewer. One of the more controversial shows, Miracle Detectives, pairs a skeptic neuroscientist with a journalist who claims first-hand experience with the unexplained; together, they travel the country and investigate extraordinary phenomena. OWN's programs reach out to the woman who wants to improve her own life, not passively watch the glamorous adventures of others.

"Every minute of this network has been hand-selected by me, for you, the viewers," Winfrey says, and it's very easy to believe her. She's talking to the women who have followed her and her decades-long transformation into a media omnipresence. And every program reflects the network's Oprahness: the winner of the competition Your OWN Show will host a talk show on the network. Her best friend has a live morning show on the network. While she appears on just a handful of shows, Winfrey's presence is palpable throughout.

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Sharmin T.M. Kent blogs about music, politics and culture at Confessions of a Cybernegress.

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