(Image courtesy of Dish Networks/Bing Images)
Today, Oprah Winfrey announced she will take over as CEO of the failing Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), according to The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.com. This is in addition to her current title of chairman. In May, Oprah Winfrey ended her daily talk show after 25 spectacular years. With great fanfare, Oprah announced she was ready to move on after hosting daytime’s most successful syndicated TV daytime show ever. Already a Forbes List billionaire, she revealed she would create her own network. In January 2010, she, launched the network with the clever acronym, OWN. Unfortunately, OWN should be disowned by Oprah. Immediately. No questions asked. Pull the plug, flip the switch, sell it or do whatever they do in TV-land to kill a channel.
For more years than I can remember, my friends and I watched The Oprah Winfrey Show. At three o'clock everyday, we’d tune in to find Oprah interviewing guests, mostly real women and various experts, while she confessed her personal struggles to millions of viewers. Oprah was relatable to all of us in a unique way. We identified with her struggle to lose weight and cheered her on when she marched out on stage, showing her new body in size 8 jeans. We commiserated with her when she gained back the weight and then some.
The show’s topics were compelling. Oprah drew us in and held our attention, day after day, year after year, for more than two decades. When my kids were newborns, after a long day with a fussy baby, I looked forward to three o'clock when I knew I’d get relief from her positive dose of feel good TV. We defended Oprah when she became the butt of David Letterman’s cruel jokes. We empathized with her like we would a good friend.
Women all over the world were obsessively devoted to Oprah. She helped us feel good about our imperfect selves because she was imperfect and wasn’t afraid to talk about it. She offered self-help with a personal twist. Eating disorders, secret drug abuse, secrets, lies and betrayal, beauty and health advice, fashion and even the difficult topics like racism were featured. That is quite an accomplishment.
Oprah’s Book Club would catapult a book to bestseller status overnight. If she featured a product on her show, the business could become an immediate success. When I worked in public relations, the inside joke was that every client wanted their product (or themselves) to be featured on the Oprah show. Never mind the chances were one in a million, or their product was junk, but clients dared to dream about that magical moment when they’d walk out onto her stage.
Then, a few years ago, Oprah decided she’d had enough of negative topics and would only focus on positive, uplifting themes. That too worked, although it lacked the personal confessions and drama we’d come to expect. We got to know her BFF Gayle King, Dr. Phil, Lisa Ling, Dr. Oz and the interior designer Nate Berkus. Thanks to Oprah, they all became household names with their own TV and radio shows.
Not content to retire to her ranch in Santa Barbara to play with her dogs, Oprah aired the last episode of her legendary show in May and with a major publicity campaign, told the world about her new network that promised tie-ins to her former show.
OWN should have been just as fabulous and addictive as The Oprah Winfrey Show. Those of us who watched her show and read her magazine, O Magazine, were ready to watch OWN just as devotedly as we did her show. We expected to love OWN.
Sadly, OWN is unwatchable. Ratings sometimes lie, but in this case, the ratings are brutally honest. According to Forbes, in a June 17 article, “Continued ‘Bumps’ For The Oprah Winfrey Network”, ratings are one-third of what advertisers expect. Nobody is watching the network because it’s awful. After sitting restlessly though a few of the low budget reality shows that count as OWN’s original programming, I tuned out. OWN is crammed full of filler. It doesn’t have enough original programming to fill 24 hours of airtime, 7 days a week. The original programming it does air is dull and insults the intelligence of potential viewers like me.
For example, “Primetime on OWN” Tuesday evening featured an hour-long show about a woman who found out her father was a serial killer. The rest of the network’s programming is filled with hours of back to back episodes of Chaz Bono’s sex change story and stale re-runs from Dr. Phil, “What Not To Wear” circa 2006 and Discovery Channel’s creepy “Mystery Diagnosis” (OWN took over the Discovery Channel). The visual image of OWN screams low budget, as if Oprah lacked the money to do it right (we know that’s not true). The graphics are dull and the vibe is decidedly unhip. Compared to Bravo or HBO, it doesn’t stand a chance.
I don’t know anybody who watches OWN. My friends all agree that it’s uninspiring and unwatchable. The only compelling show on OWN is the “Behind The Scenes” of Oprah’s former show. I watched one episode and it made me nostalgic for her former show. The irony (and the problem for Oprah) is that I am OWN’s demographic (women over 25). I loved her show, I read her magazine, I buy stuff her advertisers sell and I watch too much TV. But I can’t stand OWN. It’s a sad replacement for her beloved show.
OWN has been a ratings flop. Actually, It’s been an unmitigated disaster by TV standards. Oprah recently caused a dust-up when she fired the new CEO of OWN, a long-time Oprah executive, along with several other OWN executives. The problem isn’t, as some experts believe, that viewers need to “find OWN.” We’ve found it and we don’t like it.
It’s incomprehensible to me why OWN isn’t a better representation of Oprah’s stellar brand. One friend of mine, a TV executive, said it’s because Oprah is a great TV host, but those skills do not translate into creating and running a network. Whatever the explanation, OWN isn’t up to Oprah’s high standards. While I won’t be watching OWN, I will be reading O Magazine and waiting eagerly for Oprah’s next endeavor.