Monday, June 27, 2011

OWN up, Oprah!

This is the Daily Schedule for OWN.

Want to find OWN in your area? Check our channel listing.

6:00 pm Ryan & Tatum: the O'Neals

7:00 pm The Healthy Gourmet

7:30 pm Eat Yourself Sexy

8:00 pm The Cupcake Girls

8:30 pm The Cupcake Girls

9:00 pm Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes

10:00 pm Finding Sarah: From Royalty to the Real World

11:00 pm Ryan & Tatum: the O'Neals

12:30 pm Everyday Food
1:00 am The Locator
1:30 am Why Not with Shania Twain
3:00 am The Right Fit
3:30 am Breathing Space Yoga
4:00 am Smart Cookies
4:30 am Dollars and Sense with Alison Griffiths
5:00 am Maxed Out
5:30 am Maxed Out
6:00 am The Shopping Bags
6:30 am The Shopping Bags
7:00 am Tosca: Flexing at 49
7:30 am Remedy Me!
8:00 am Mystery Diagnosis
9:00 am Becoming Chaz
11:00 am Big Voice
11:30 am Big Voice
12:00 pm Ryan & Tatum: the O'Neals
1:00 pm Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes
2:00 pm Finding Sarah: From Royalty to the Real World
3:00 pm Ghostly Encounters
3:30 pm Ghostly Encounters
4:00 pm Psychic Investigators
4:30 pm Psychic Investigators
5:00 pm Rescue Mediums
5:30 pm Rescue Mediums
6:00 pm Breaking Down the Bars
7:00 pm Dark Waters of Crime
8:00 pm The Devil You Know
9:00 pm Ghostly Encounters
9:30 pm Ghostly Encounters
10:00 pm The Locator
10:30 pm The Locator
11:00 pm Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love
11:30 pm Annabel Langbein: The Free Range Cook

You've got to "own" this, Oprah: your new network is bad. Real bad. It's bad because it's boring. The pallid programming is a real disappointment. And I really wanted to like it, or at least keep on tuning in for a while. But every time I do, it slips downhill a little more.

Oprah has bombed before, most notably with her ego-driven masterwork Beloved, which in spite of her aggressive media-blitz and constant insistence that "this is my Schindler's List" turned out to be an indecipherable mess. In a desperate attempt to recapture those fine and fizzy days of The Color Purple (for which she deservedly won an Oscar nomination), she plunked herself down in the middle of a confusing tangle of a movie, surrealism mixed with violence and a side of racial injustice. It had to sell, didn't it?

No, it didn't.  This sent her into a depression worse than the one she suffered when, after starving herself on an appalling and dangerous liquid diet, all the excess weight came back, and then some.

I get peevish about Winfrey because she began with what looked like real integrity and altruism. But over the years, her fans became sycophants. They cheered insanely and wept when she walked onstage. It was as if she couldn't make a wrong move.

But this new network of hers is a bow-wow. I was amazed at how many quasi-supernatural shows there are, along with the inevitable Gayle King talk show, and reality programs with has-been celebs like Ryan and Tatum O'Neill (who spend the hour taking nasty jabs at each other) and Sarah Ferguson, who insists she's a "victim" of the journalist who outed her for agreeing to sell her ex-husband to the press.

They trapped her! Fooled her! How dare they! So now she's all depressed and hates herself, trying to gain our sympathy in spite of being a felon, at least until the last episode when she is required to make a dramatic turnaround.

I wanted to like Lisa Ling and Our America, and I watched all of them to give it a chance, but it too is pallid and lacks muscle, insight and conviction. If Oprah really chose these programs, and surely to God she must have at least okayed them, she showed a stunning lack of insight/foresight. Ling's show seems to deal exclusively with gender and sexuality issues, as in "pray the gay away" and men going to Third World countries to find (or purchase) "brides".

Her mushy style of journalism is one of the main problems. Ling should stop all the hand-holding and drop the concerned, furrowed brow, which makes her as annoying as that psychologist on Hoarders, whatever her name is, the one who always seems to wear a look of terrible anxiety mixed with practiced compassion.

I can't see into the future - thank God - but my feeling is that this network might just tank. It won't hurt the Big O financially - nothing could - but Kitty Kelley's bombshell book Oprah reveals how hypersensitive the queen of talk TV is to any kind of failure. That is why she spent an entire episode facing the camera and making excuses about her weight gain, then drowning out her guest, the author of Women, Food and God (who barely got a word in about her book) by blathering on and on about how the book was an "epiphany" for her (though I certainly don't see her getting any thinner).

I've written about Oprah before, and I suppose she must count as one of my perennial obsessions. Maybe this is why I have five followers, because my blog is just as boring as OWN! Seriously, I'm  being this tough on her because over the years, her astonishing vanity and habit of rolling around in material wealth has just escalated and escalated, until it dragged her entire audience into the vortex. For the first time since she bailed on her famous book club due to weak ratings, people began to get turned off.

The worst show on OWN (so far) is a behind-the-scenes look at the final season of the show, in which Oprah reveals her frightening diva-hood in all its queasy glory. Her producers tiptoe around her and run into back rooms to sob if she's unhappy with what they've done. In a spectacular instance of passing the buck, she recently canned the CEO of OWN, temporarily replacing her with some guy from Discovery Health (the pallid non-network that OWN supposedly replaced).

Why does this annoy me so much? When a woman has this much influence, she should stop the self-aggrandisement, the constant public insistence of how much good she is doing, and actually do some good. We don't want to see a freakish Ryan O'Neill, his face turned into a rubber mask by bad plastic surgery, throwing poison darts at his (so-called) bitch of a daughter, while his (so-called) bitch of a daughter snaps and snarls about her heartless Dad. This is enlightenment? It's not even entertainment. If you're going to throw the Christians to the lions, which reality TV seems to do, let's not make them stuffy lions from the Walmart.

And more cupcakes we do not need. I don't know how anyone can squeeze a whole show out of a cupcake (or a cookie, for that matter). OK then, enough grousing about what's wrong: so what would I like to see? I love to watch Dateline, 20-20 and 48 Hours, simply because a few times per season they do something fascinating, even riveting. But even the rest of the time, they're still watchable. So there's room for some tough, hard-edged reporting on something besides cross-dressing. Think Diane Sawyer. Think Greta van Susteren. Think, even, Nancy Grace! Awful as she can be, she cuts through the bullshit every time. OK, not these people specifically, but surely there's someone out there who's NOT a name, or not yet, who can do this (for didn't someone take a chance on Oprah herself, a long time ago?)

And in case you think I'm completely against the supernatural, I'm not. I have had plenty of scalp-crawling experiences myself, including my strange walk in the woods from a few posts ago where I found a bridge lying on the grass.  But I have a suggestion here. If Oprah must indulge her apparent craving for the paranormal, why not present decent biographies (where did they go, by the way? Didn't there used to be a real biography channel, now taken over by retreads of Hoarders?) about such fascinating figures as psychic healer Edgar Cayce, theosophy founder Madame Blavatsky, and the Fox sisters, pioneers of spiritualism? But nobody wants to learn anything: they want to one-up each other with creepy-crawly stories so their hair stands on end in a sort of cheap psychic orgasm.

Even one show about the supernatural may be too much, but please don't show the same episode four times in 24 hours. These programs are completely unwatchable, and about as entertaining as a stoned Ouija-board session with a bunch of 14-year-old girls.

Limit the cooking shows to one or two chefs who really have some talent, maybe undiscovered talent.
Get someone other than Gayle King to host your flagship talk show. Hiring your girl friend/platonic life partner doesn't guarantee a quality program.

And can't you see the conflict between shows like The Healthy Gourmet with other programs that focus solely on cookies and cupcakes? I'm sorry, but you can't have it both ways. It's as schizophrenic as women's magazines, in which the latest diet craze appears right next to glossy photos of devil's food cake with an inch of icing.

If you add up OWN programming so far, it's pretty insulting to the women it's supposed to cater to. Oprah must assume we love to see:

(a) people with narcissistic personality disorder playing out their nasty little domestic wars,

(b) high-profile celebrities (Sarah??) plummeting into bankruptcy and disgrace due to their own selfish stupidity,

(c) shows obsessed with dieting, fitness and nutrition, and

(d) shows about cupcakes.

OK den, I guess I've had my say. Oprah does not cope well with public failure, so if her new network continues to limp along, I can see her doing one of two things: scrapping all the current programming and starting from scratch, or scrapping the entire enterprise. Even the boring shows on Discovery Health don't repeat the same pallid ghost story four times in one day.