With the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network – aka OWN – on Jan. 1, Oprah's influence is only getting stronger. The show lineup is designed to impact every part of our lives. The schedule includes programs to address our financial, spiritual, medical, emotional and sexual health. It's the premiere television station for self-improvement. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Television is often criticized for programming that offers questionable contributions to cultural life.
Recently, Oprah Winfrey traveled to Australia with a handpicked audience of her longtime fans. She had her picture taken with a koala. She taped her show in front of the Sydney Opera House. She declared that the land Down Under was a place worth visiting. While Australian tourism officials were trying not to faint from excitement, my friend reported from the front line. Well, from the front line of her computer, where she sent me daily e-mail updates on Oprah's movements and noted how the weather was perfect for her entire visit. Then a strange thing happened. The day after Oprah left, the sunny skies of Sydney grew dark and it rained — not a light shower but a bone-drenching downpour. My friend is now pretty sure that Oprah controls the weather.
I'm still undecided about Oprah's power over the climate, but I do believe that she plays a large part in our media life. With the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network – aka OWN – on Jan. 1, her influence is only getting stronger. Oprah is a small media empire. Actually, she is a small media planet, so it's no surprise that she launched OWN, the television version of a galaxy. The show lineup is designed to impact every part of our lives. The schedule includes programs to address our financial, spiritual, medical, emotional and sexual health. It's the premiere television station for self-improvement. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Television is often criticized for programming that offers questionable contributions to cultural life. Why not have an entire network with shows that are devoted to how we can all be better? It provides a nice balance to programming that often highlights the worst in us.
Before you decide that you are immune to Oprah's power because you don't watch her show and wouldn't tune in to her network, think about her impact. It's more than likely that at least one book you read recently was a recommendation from her book club that immediately shot to No. 1 on the bestseller list. You might listen to the therapeutic advice of Dr. Phil, the medical expertise of Dr. Oz or the interior design insight of Nate Berkus — all rose to prominence because of appearances on Oprah’s talk show. Do you watch Rachael Ray? Ever cooked one of her recipes? You can thank Oprah for producing her show and making her popular. Maybe you've been tempted to pick up a copy of O magazine where Oprah appears smiling on the cover every month, inviting you to learn how to be your best self. Oprah is like the Borg from “Star Trek” - resistance is futile.
Even if you have successfully resisted the pull of Oprah, I would suggest that in our wide television landscape, her network has something to offer. OWN is sort of like confession or detox. Trust me. Watch an episode of “Basketball Wives” on VH1 and then switch to something on Oprah's network. You'll feel better instantly.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies. To comment on Stay Tuned, e-mail her at email@example.com.