Fans of Oprah Winfrey's brand of feel-good, heartstring-tugging programming got a week-late Christmas present on New Year's Day, as the daytime queen's eponymous cable network, OWN, finally hit the air.
Winfrey, who will leave behind her No. 1 syndicated talk show this spring after 25 years on the air, hosted the first hour of programming, previewing some of the original series she is most excited about. While continuously reinforcing the network's "live your best life now" mantra, Winfrey introduced gripping and sometimes tear-jerking sizzle reels.
"I wanted to take the ideals of great television that we've established on the Oprah show and bring them to you through a variety of new shows 24/7," Winfrey said. "Every minute of this network has been hand-selected by me for you, the viewers."
Smartly tapping into that long-cultivated audience, the first program Winfrey plugged was Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes (Saturday at 8/7c), an "uncensored, unprecedented look" what it takes to make nation's most popular talk show tick every day. Following Winfrey during everything from her makeup-less drive to work to tense meetings with senior staffers, Winfrey is attempting to give the first peek behind the curtain of her daytime empire.
Winfrey then turned the focus onto the other celebrities that will grace her new network. The new series Oprah Presents Master Class (Sunday, Jan. 2 at 10/9c) will feature raw interviews of such stars as Diane Sawyer, Jay-Z, Simon Cowell, Sidney Poitier and Lorne Michaels, who Winfrey described as some of our "greatest thought leaders." Winfrey's discoveries Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Suze Orman will also participate in a show called Ask Oprah's All-Stars (Jan.2 at 8/7c), to be hosted by Winfrey's best friend, Gayle King. (King will also translate her daily radio show to the OWN audience, broadcasting a show live daily beginning Jan. 10.)
Winfrey also showed sneak peeks of celebrity-based reality shows that played almost like weekly therapy sessions for the shows' stars. Finding Sarah follows Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson on a journey to find her own self-worth. Why Not? With Shania Twain centers on the parallel decline of the country megastar's marriage and career as she lost the confidence to perform as her fame grew.
The network will also host a pair of dysfunctional celebrity family reality series. The Judds follows mother-daughter country duo Wynonna and Naomi Judd as they learn to communicate before hitting the road for a new tour. Ryan and Tatum: The O'Neals focuses on the father and daughter actors trying to repair a bond that was broken when Tatum was still a young girl.
Check your TV listings to find OWN, which replaces Discovery Health
The two most enticing programs for our money are Lisa Ling's documentary series, Our America, which follows Ling as she dissects the lives of various groups, including sex offenders, faith healers, drug addicts and transsexuals, and Your Own Show (Friday, Jan. 7 at 8/7c), a competition series featuring 10 wannabe hosts competing for their big break — a show on the new network.
Sticking a little closer to traditional reality fare are such shows as Enough Already! (Monday, Jan. 3 at 8/7c), which shows organizational expert Peter Walsh save families from "destructive" clutter in their homes; Christina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love (Monday, Jan. 3 at 3:30/2:30c), a rather paint-by-numbers cooking show; In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman (Monday, Jan. 3 at 10/9c), which documents the sex expert as she tries to help couples reignite their sparks; and Kidnapped by the Kids, on which workaholic parents are forced to put down their BlackBerrys and spend the week with their families.
Miracle Detectives, which follows two investigators — one a believer and one a cynic — as they try to explain illogical occurrences, will likely hinge on how interesting the "miracle of the week" is. Other series include Addicted to Food, which focuses on an intense rehab center that helps overeaters and bulimics alike, and Breaking Down the Bars, which follows a group of women in prison.
To come later in the year are talk shows from Rosie O'Donnell and Winfrey herself, the latter called Oprah's Next Chapter.
"With this channel, we wanted to create the kind of television that wouldn't waste your time. Television we believe you want to watch," Winfrey said. "Every day, here's what I'm hoping — that you will find something here to inspire you."
Do you think this first slate of programming will do that? What shows look interesting to you?