The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) turned a year old on Sunday, but there wasn't a whole lot to celebrate. Ratings for the fledgling network "have been a major disappointment," says Elizabeth Blair at NPR, and the media has seized on OWN's failure to fulfill its Oprah-sized expectations. Hoping to reverse the negative trend, the former talk show host is getting back in front of the camera. Oprah's Next Chapter, a reality series that follows Winfrey as she tours the world interviewing celebrities and trying out new experiences, debuted Sunday night. In the premiere, she visited Aerosmith star and American Idol judge Steven Tyler at his New Hampshire home for a conversation that ranged from his history as a drug abuser to his love life. Could Oprah's Next Chapter turn OWN around?
This is the Oprah we know and love: It "takes some adjusting" to process the sight of a dressed-down Oprah in the real world, outside her Chicago studio, says Sara Vilkomerson at Entertainment Weekly. But once the Tyler interview got under way, Next Chapter became very familiar. "We saw Oprah... doing what she does best." This "master interviewer" still has the knack of getting important people to open up in surprising ways. She broached remarkably sensitive topics with Tyler, and he responded revealingly.
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Despite problems, it's a strong show: Time off has served Oprah well, says TV Smack Talk. In her talk show's final years, Winfrey "was very robotic when interviewing celebrities, shaking her head and 'Um-hmming' on auto pilot." Next Chapter offers a more natural, dramatically more focused Oprah. It helps that Tyler was a captivating subject, but Winfrey should be credited with her ability to "peel the onion." Admittedly, the two-hour show was much too long and, when Winfrey and Tyler held hands and detailed their mutual admiration, intolerably sappy. "But I'm sure people were eating it up."
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This "interesting" series could actually save OWN: It's no secret that OWN's first year "has been marked with strife and original programming missteps," says Jessica Grabert at Cinema Blend. Winfrey herself admitted disappointment to the Associated Press last week. Spotlighting Winfrey "may be just what the network needs to send its ratings chugging in a new direction." The network's secret weapon has stayed hidden for too long.
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