Oprah’s Next Challenge

I’ve been an Oprah Winfrey fan for a long time, but so far I’m not feeling her new network, OWN. And if the first two episodes of her new talk show are any indication, Oprah is still searching for answers herself.

HER OWNERSHIP: Oprah Winfrey's struggling cable network, OWN, has even her fans wondering if the Mighty O has lost her golden touch. (Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Newscom)

I loves Oprah, God knows I do. But I don’t know if Oprah’s Next Chapter is going to have the awe-inspiring success that the Grand O enjoyed for 25 years with “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

For those who didn’t know, the start to this article is my tribute to my favorite Sophia (portrayed by Oprah Winfrey) line in the movie The Color Purple. Here is the line in case you did not see the movie: “I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead ‘fo I let him beat me.” And if you did not know, Oprah’s name spelled backward is Harpo and was the name of her husband in the movie and the name she chose for her company (read: empire).

So on to my topic of the day. Oprah is a skilled interviewer and a master of ingratiating herself with those she chooses to interview, two of many qualities enabling her to be queen of talk with very little competition for a quarter of a century. And undoubtedly, Oprah has earned her place in history as a girl who was born in the backwoods of Mississippi but ultimately has become the first black woman billionaire, a world-class philanthropist, and a beloved global icon. And most recently, the owner of her own cable television network — OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network).

And yet as I watched Oprah interview author and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen on her new OWN show Oprah’s Next Chapter on Sunday, I did not feel the same energy that I felt when I would watch The Oprah Winfrey Show. And I’m a member of the target audience of her new show, which debuted on Jan. 1, because I’m a woman who love all things religious and spiritual!

According to the Chicago Tribune, her new show, which will feature weekly one-hour interviews, will essentially be Oprah on a “spiritual quest” with various celebrities, politicians, religious and or spiritual gurus and more. Unlike her talk show, there is no audience, and she is interviewing her guests in their natural habitats wherever that may be.

The premiere episode featured a two-hour interview with eccentric Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler who is now an American Idol judge. This interview took Oprah to Tyler’s home in Sunapee, New Hampshire. For part of the interview, Oprah and Tyler explored a forest which kind of felt like an answer to a Jeopardy question. Who are the two unlikeliest people you will see in the forest together? Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and aged rock star Steven Tyler. About 1.1 million viewers tuned in, which is the second highest rating of an OWN show, according to the Chicago Tribune. The highest rating goes to Oprah Behind the Scenes, which chronicled the last season of her talk show.

In her interview with Osteen, Oprah was accompanied by another Tyler — her good friend (O, to be so lucky) Tyler Perry. The pair visited the Lakewood Church, reportedly the largest church in America, before sitting down with Osteen in his home to interview him. Although everyone knows that Oprah is a spiritual person, I have not associated her with any one religion although she has spoken about Jesus Christ and often fondly recalls giving Easter speeches in church as a child. So it was kind of cool to see Oprah raising her hands giving praises and singing along during the church service/gospel concert.

Oprah began by listing Osteen’s impressive stats: His show reaches 10 million people in nearly 100 countries, he has written 20 books and six of them are New York Times bestsellers, his church has 16,000 seats (it used to be the stadium for the Houston Rockets), two 25-foot tall waterfalls, and a 450-member choir backed by a full band. She rightfully concluded that Osteen’s church is “big business.”

In spite of all of that, Oprah did not shy away from the tough questions, asking him about how he keeps his ego in check, his reputation as a prosperity gospel proponent, the shady reputation of some televangelists down through the years, and his stance on homosexuality. The only question that threw him a little was about homosexuality: “Is it a sin?” After offering a more cryptic response, he finally declared that he believes it is a sin.

“It’s a hard thing in a sense, because I’m for everybody,” Osteen said. “I’m not against anybody. I don’t think that anybody is second-class. But when I read the Scripture in good faith, I can’t see that it doesn’t show that as being a sin.”

Watch the clip below to see Oprah ask Osteen about homosexuality, sin, and whether there’s more than one path to God.

The fact that Osteen affirmed his commitment to the Bible on such a thorny issue as homosexuality was somewhat surprising since he also readily admitted that he does not use a lot of scripture in his sermons, which he has been criticized for. But you have to appreciate the guy’s honesty.

It was a good interview and demonstrates that Oprah will always be Oprah: a seeker on a journey toward truth. But as I said earlier, I didn’t feel drawn into the show. And I’m not sure why.

I watched Oprah’s Lifeclass show some months ago and wrote about how much I enjoyed it on my personal blog. One person commented that while she loved Oprah, she was “Oprahed-out” and was experiencing déjà vu as she watched the show. Maybe her comment expresses some of what I’m feeling now. I’ve been on a journey with Oprah before, from the time she was Sophia in The Color Purple until her talk show ended last May. And I’m just not sure how much further I can go. I’m not saying that she is no longer relevant, but we have seen Oprah every weekday for 25 years and it’s not clear whether her spiritual quest has landed her any closer to genuine truth. I certainly hope her circuitous path will ultimately take her there.

And as far as Oprah’s cable network is concerned, I’m just not that into it. I’ve not been a fan of Rosie O’Donnell since her mean-spirited (and mercifully short-lived) stint on The View some years ago, and the rest of the network lineup doesn’t look too exciting either. I do like Suze Orman though, and I will probably tune in to watch her show, America’s Money Class with Suze Orman, which debuted on Monday. And others seem to share my sentiments. According to an article in the International Business Times, OWN is struggling, averaging “just 136,000 viewers per day, a decline of 8 percent compared to Discovery Health, the channel it replaced.” And “Oprah’s OWN Network is apparently losing money monthly at a healthy clip. Media reports suggest Discovery has pumped in $254 million above a $189 commitment.”

Like I said, I loves Oprah, God knows I do, but Oprah has a challenge on her hands. Still, it’s not as though she hasn’t beat the odds before. If a poor black girl from the country can become a billionaire media mogul, then only God knows what the future of OWN — and Oprah — may be.

About the author, Jacqueline J. Holness

Jacqueline J. Holness is a preacher’s kid, a preacher’s grandkid, and a preacher’s niece who blogs at afterthealtarcall.com. She is also the author of After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God.
  1. What Oprah will have to do is create the “Roots” network. She’s in the position to do so. She’s accomplished everything else. She’s spoken to white women for two decades. To really be relevant in this day and age, she must be BOLD enough to specialize. A BET type network, run by a black WOMAN of integrity, whose proven everything she needs to prove. Will she be bold enough to specialize, and possibly lose her core audience to gain a new black audience?

  2. 14 times, I have cycled 7 days, 575 miles, from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a cycling charity event called AIDSLifecycle. In route to Los Angeles, I (and 2,000 of my best friends) cycle thru Montecito, CA. ( Montecito is the home to Oprah Winfrey).

    Each Year, the locals of Montecito – Santa Barbara gather and create their own “Paradise Pit Stop” for the approx. 2,000 AIDSLifecycle Cyclist & 400 Volunteer Crew members. There you can find: chocolate bars, organic strawberries, vegan ice cream, corn dogs, Twinkies, coco cola, massages, and then some.. … ALL YOU CAN EAT …GRATIS!

    Years ago (as I ate my strawberries and homemade ice cream), I asked several Montecito residents: “Where is Oprah?”

    Responses:
    1. “She is not here. ”
    2. “That’s a funny question. . . . .”
    3. “Can I be in the Oprah Magazine ?”
    4. ” Oprah can be found shopping in the local Montecito Von’s.”
    5. “Who’s Oprah?”
    6. “Great Idea!”
    As I left the “Paradise Pit” in Montecito, I thought: “Let’s ask Oprah Winfrey & the Oprah Winfrey Network to join and/or support the AIDSLifecycle Family.

    African Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning, and that disparity has deepened over time. African Americans account for more AIDS diagnoses, people estimated to be living with AIDS, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S. The epidemic has also had a disproportionate impact on subgroups of African Americans including women, youth, and men who have sex with men, and its impact varies across the country. Moreover, African Americans with HIV/AIDS may face greater barriers to accessing care than their white counterparts.

    Oprah Winfrey & the Oprah Winfrey Network focus on encouraging people around the world to live their “Own Best Life” (with vision & focus)) while simultaneously making a difference in the lives of underprivileged others.

    Through Oprah’s involvement with the Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, the tiny town of Williamson, West Virginia, Lifeclass, and the “A Secret Sex World: Living on the Downlow” segment, Oprah has both removed stigmas & flattened ignorance associated with the AIDS Pandemic.

    In June 2012, I, Tony Eason, (and 2,500 of my best friends) will cycle 575 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the fight against the AIDS Pandemic. And as we ride past the home of Oprah Winfrey,, I invite the O.W.N to participate (in any way that they can).

    The presence of Oprah at the AIDSLifecycle 2012 Closing Ceremonies would not only fuel the hearts of the 2,500 cycling philanthropists & 400 volunteer crew members – it would present a platform to continue promoting self empowerment; flattening ignorance; and providing education as a prominent African American Woman in the African American Community,

    AIDS/LifeCycle is co-produced by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and is designed to advance their shared interests to end the pandemic and human suffering caused by AIDS.

    I know:

    1. It takes a village to raise a child,
    2. You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.
    3. The best way to teach is by example.

    And as I prepare & train for my 15th Journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I know I’m doing the right thing.

    An Invitation to the Oprah Winfrey Network:- http://youtu.be/Qrr4_5jQoaM

  3. I too, enjoyed the lifeclasses and live streaming. I believe it would be a mistake for her not to bring it back in a similar format. It was the only reason I bought the subscription to her channel.