Rosie and Oprah Debut Their New Shows On OWN. How Did They Do?

There's a renewed sense of excitement and pressure in the offices of the Oprah Winfrey Network right now, as Rosie and Oprah both debuted new highly publicized series. So how did they do?

There’s a renewed sense of excitement and pressure in the offices of the Oprah Winfrey Network right now. Monday night marked a renewed attempt to gain viewers and buzz to the fledgling network. OWN promoted the evening as a two hour special event, introducing two new shows. Rosie, and Oprah’s Lifeclass.

Rosie O’Donnell debuted her new talk show Rosie live at 7pm eastern, focusing a good portion of her show to guest Russell Brand, whom she describes as her new “Tommy.” (As in, her famous celebrity crush Tom Cruise.) The interview went on for several segments (arguably perhaps one too many) but found it’s fun again when O’Donnell had the chance to showcase her spontaneous humor with a game called “The Ro Game.”  An audience winner won a trip to Jamaica for answering the easy, light hearted questions, each question containing “RO” in the answer. (proposal, rotation, Charo, etc.) The audience enjoyed the game show moments, and Rosie’s ability to react quickly to the well chosen, quirky contestants.

But the howling and screaming of the audience was at it’s loudest at the very tail end of the show, when Oprah herself made a cameo. As Rosie wrapped the premiere, she commented that there was ‘one thing missing.’ (Rosie promos had been showing Rosie calling for confetti during the prior week, which was also a promoted trending topic on twitter earlier in the day… so Winfrey came out screaming ‘confetti!’) Most of Oprah’s appearance was during the final credits, and consisted largely of waves and smiles. The timing of the moment was smartly chosen –  clearly no one would have been able to pay attention to the show if Oprah had arrived any earlier.

Following Rosie came Oprah’s Lifeclass, a tutorial on the Oprah approach to life, drawing upon her vast arsenal of archived talk show material. Viewers can follow the class on facebook, which will include reading and other weekly assignments. (Participants are required to allow the Oprah people to post status updates on their profiles, which some may consider a deterrent… self growth, after all, is to some a rather personal journey.)

Winfrey began her first episode on the topic of EGO, drawing examples from what was among the most infamous, iconic moments of her talk show… the moment in 1988 when she dragged a wagon carrying 67 pounds of fat into the studio… representing the weight she had lost at the time. (She has frequently cited the moment as one of her biggest mistakes, and says she has paid for that moment time and time again.) She spoke in depth about her ego at the time.

The subject was a smart choice for the first episode: whether a person chooses to participate in the lifeclass or not, many people will be curious to know what was going on in Oprah’s head during her weight loss battle.

The class continued in earnest, drawing examples from her life where she has recognized her own ego and then drawing upon more examples via guests on her talk show. What made it compelling, perhaps even more than the lessons themselves, was that it was an intimate, self guided profile of Oprah herself.

The pressure for these two shows to provide a bump in the ratings is high, and perhaps too high an expectation. The time slots, 7pm and 8pm, aren’t likely to result in a real shakeup in the TV landscape, and the subscriber base of the Oprah Winfrey Network is still just a portion compared to other cable networks, making it doubly difficult to complete. But both of these efforts are strong, well produced debuts that are welcome and sorely needed in a cable world headlined by narcissistic reality show characters.

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