Oprah's network will OWN that feel-good spirit

Not specifically religious, but vaguely spiritual and faith-filled, the new Oprah Winfrey Network is — like its namesake — all about uplift.

Uplifting advice, uplifting household tips, uplifting examples from celebrity lives. The new channel is a thematically unified effort at self-improvement, heaving us, hoisting us to a better place, 24/7 on cable television.

That's a lot of uplift.

Bowing Saturday, OWN will spread affirmations and life lessons, inspiring enough positive energy and goodwill to change the world, or at least to deliver an audience to advertisers.

Certainly, it's a well-financed undertaking that looks slick, judging by previews.


On Saturday, Oprah, inspirer-in-chief, will introduce the network with "Oprah's Guide to OWN," a tour of the new shows.

Some are basically reality shows about decluttering your house or spending quality time with your kids — simple how-to entertainment adorned with a takeaway message on how to improve your life, which is the OWN signature.

Other series are more like sermonettes from the world of accomplished celebrities, the Oprah cohort, aiming not just to entertain, but to inspire.

A centerpiece of OWN's program slate is "Oprah Presents Master Class," at the odd hours of 2 and 7 p.m. It's an extended profile of a "master" of the art of living. The profilees are people Oprah considers emotionally evolved as well as financially successful.

The first two, Jay-Z and Diane Sawyer, represent the range and tone. Oprah speaks on camera, giving her seal of approval to the subject. Understated graphics float by, offering up miniblessings. "Be true." ''Be curious." ''Power of love."

First-season masters include Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier, Simon Cowell, Condoleezza Rice and Oprah, herself.

"Learn from every experience," Winfrey exhorts.

Archival footage of the masters accompanies their in-studio accounts of tough beginnings, painful losses and obstacles to success. But they triumphed and, arguably, you can too.


"It's difficult to teach racism when your kid looks up to Snoop Doggy Dog," the rap artist Jay-Z says about the power of rap music.

"In the broken places, the light shines through," Sawyer says, paraphrasing Leonard Cohen, after reporting on a persevering young girl in Appalachia.

The profiles are strictly admiring, staged to feel candid. The subjects are "learning from their failures," ''following their truth," talking the quasi-religious talk and hewing to the New Age spirituality on which the Winfrey empire was founded. Suffice to say, the approach will be too much for more cynical viewers.

In another show, Lisa Ling (a journalist better known for "The View") plays an intrepid reporter with a hand-held camera, exploring subcultures like a faith-healing movement, sex offenders, drug addicts and an online bride business.

"I am just praying really, really hard right now," Ling says before a promised miracle (the faith-healer has determined to make a paralyzed man walk). There is laying on of hands, prayer, tears and speaking in tongues. No spoilers, but she says she learned "lives could be genuinely changed. Hope could transform. And faith could empower."

Wait a minute. A journalist who prays on-camera while reporting on faith healing? Well, Ling is smart enough to build in some caveats. Her conclusion merely leads back to the original question.

"Is faith its own reward?" Ling asks.

Is a cable network that talks about faith, prayer and the power of positive thinking its own reward?


It certainly is OWN's own reward.

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