How do you top a 24-year run as a wildly successful daytime talk show host? By going prime time: When it launches in 2011, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will carry a slate of new Oprah-branded shows, anchored by her own flagship night time program, "Oprah's Next Chapter." (Watch Oprah announce her new network, a joint venture with Discovery Communications, to her shareholders.) Here's what's known about Oprah's next act, and some educated guesses on whether she's making a smart bet:
How will "Oprah's Next Chapter" differ from her current show?
It won't be taped in a studio with a live audience and "could air as many as two or three times a week," reports The Wall Street Journal. It will "follow her around the globe for conversations in places such as Egypt and China." Oprah has declared that she's "going to take viewers with me [as well as] celebrities I want to interview." An OWN press release says her destinations will vary "from the Taj Mahal to her beloved oak tree," raising the spectre of picnic-style sit-downs.
How have media observers reacted?
Cautiously and, in some cases, dismissively. The new schedule is "a potentially jarring change for her daytime devotees, who tend to be ruled by habit," says Jeff Bercovici in Daily Finance, while MovieLine's Julie Miller questions whether the "totally predictable format" is sufficiently different from her current show. It can't be, counters Jamie Poniewozik in Time: "Oprah the host would like to knock off, break the routine and do something different," but she now works for "Oprah the TV mogul, who is too good a businesswoman not to get her number-one star to do what brings in the viewers..."
Why isn't she retiring?
Reportedly, Discovery's CEO David Zaslav convinced Oprah that advertisers would pass on her fledgling network unless she put herself on the small screen. Given the choice between a failed media experiment and time off to relax and see the world, says Lisa de Moraes in The Washington Post, Oprah "figured out a way to gallivant around the world and get to write it off as a business expense. Sweet."
What other shows has OWN announced?
Five new programs, including: "Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search For the Next TV Star," an American Idol-like talent show; "Gayle King Live!," a chat show hosted by Oprah's longtime friend; and a reality show called "Why Not?" that follows singer Shania Twain as she copes with life as a divorcee.
Can Oprah succeed where Jay Leno failed?
A lot depends on whether she can both carry over existing fans and attract new ones, as Oprah's business partners hope, who work during the day. Mid-evening time slots are highly competitive, says Duane Dudek in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "We all know the troubles Jay Leno had." And Oprah's gospel of lifestyle improvement overlaps heavily with reality TV fare, says Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe. Oprah can "save the world, inspire millions, and move mountains... but can she compete with 'American Idol?'"