TCA, Part 3: We OWN you

Obviously the biggest highlight of the Winter version of Television Critics Association Press Tour was a rare appearance by the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey. She was at the press tour to promote her new cable network, The Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, which launched January 1 in place of Discovery Health. Discovery Communications owns half of the new joint venture while Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, Inc. owns the other half.

When she addressed reporters, Winfrey talked for a long time – so long, it was being compared to a filibuster. A question asked by a reporter took Winfrey 18 minutes and 15 seconds to answer, according to the Los Angeles Times. Winfrey talked about her career and the reasons why she decided to start the OWN network – basically because of the often negative culture of television, and she wanted to provide an alternative with more uplifting, positive fare. However, she can only take it so far: she regrets calling The Oprah Winfrey Show “change your life TV”.

Among the shows being launched on OWN include new talk shows by Gayle King (who once hosted a 1997 syndicated talk show) and Rosie O’Donnell, whose talk show was initially headed for syndication, but wound up on OWN due to disinterest from local stations. Also on the weekday schedule is repeats of Dr. Phil, whose Harpo Productions produces the show.

In primetime, look for a new reality show from Mark Burnett Productions titled Your OWN Show: The Search For The Next TV Star, where the winner would get his/her own show on OWN. I’m not kidding. Former View and Scratch personality Lisa Ling travels the country to search for stories in Our Country with Lisa Ling. Another series is a behind the scenes look at Oprah Winfrey final season of her talk show, and Chicago’s own Suze Orman also has a show on OWN.

So far, OWN has gotten tons of publicity and good buzz. The shows on OWN have surprisingly good production values, and ratings for the debut of the new cable network on its first primetime night were impressive – OWN drew a little over one million viewers in the female 25-54 demo, only behind ESPN and USA among cable networks.

Whether Ms. Winfrey can sustain this good start remains to be seen.