Oprah's OWN wins over cynics but many fans lost out

Mon Jan 3, 2011 4:30pm EST
 
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey's bold gamble on her OWN TV network debuted to mostly positive reviews and encouraging audience numbers at the weekend, winning over some cynics with its feel-good tone.

But many stalwart Oprah fans expressed dismay that they could not receive the new OWN network without paying to upgrade their cable television packages -- money that several said they could not afford.

The OWN network, a joint venture between the influential talk show host and Discovery Communications that is aimed mostly at middle-aged women, made its debut on Saturday after three years of planning.

According to preliminary Nielsen figures, OWN was watched by an average one million Americans in prime time on Saturday, and was the third biggest ad-supported cable network with women aged 25-54.

Daytime talk show "The Oprah Winfrey Show", on free-to-air ABC, attracts about six million U.S. viewers daily. Winfrey, 56, will end the show in the fall of 2011 to focus on OWN.

Initial OWN programing included a behind-the-scenes show about the making of the last season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show", lifestyle advice from the likes of Dr. Phil MGraw and Suze Orman, and the first of a series of in-depth interviews with celebrities including record producer Jay-Z and journalist Diane Sawyer.

New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley called the channel a "no cynicism zone" which had "not a snicker of malice or a hint of raillery." Caryn James at Indiewire noted that beneath the "huge amount of lifestyle fluff" there was "a surprising layer of substance."

Media blogger Dan Abrams, a former general manager at cable news channel MSNBC, said his skepticism over whether OWN could create a clear identity in a crowded market had been overcome.   Continued...