Who Wants More Oprah?

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Alston

When it was announced, back in 2008, that Oprah Winfrey would soon be getting her own television network, a person could have been forgiven for thinking she already had one of those. Not just because she previously cofounded the Oxygen network before selling back her shares, but because Oprah wields such a singularly massive influence, it's easy to forget there are cracks and crevices of the culture her glowing light hasn't shone on. But the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) is a pivotal moment for the Oprah brand. When her syndicated talk show ends this year, OWN will be her only--not to mention her riskiest--television presence. Those who have wondered whether there were limits to Oprah's power might get their answer soon.

To her credit, Oprah chose an understandable strategy for programming her new network; it's essentially her talk show liquefied and smeared across an entire day, true stories of people living their best lives, or at least trying to. The Oprah engine runs on positivity, generosity of spirit, determination, and resilience. It's these inspirational, aspirational qualities that have won her an obedient following. "Oprah is such a massive brand now that she can do basically whatever she wants," says branding consultant Dan Schawbel. "Her audience goes where she goes."

The problem is that sweetness and light are not enough to create a compelling schedule of shows over an entire day. Whereas now Oprah's show is a beacon of hope sandwiched between the iniquity of Maury Povich and an if-it-bleeds-it-leads local newscast, a whole network of such programming runs the risk of burying its viewers in a saccharine drift. Speaking at a women's conference in October, Oprah said her network will be "fun and entertaining without tearing people down and calling them bitches." The comment was a reference to The View's Joy Behar, who had recently dropped the B bomb on senatorial candidate Sharron Angle during one of the show's friction-filled "Hot Topics" segments. …