The Oprah Winfrey Network launched on Saturday, and the first reviews have started trickling in. Though none of them have been raves, most of the initial critics weighed in on the positive side.
The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley noted the complete lack of bite or cynicism on the network. "Nowhere in that opening gush of feel-good highlight reels, self-improvement plans, spiritual quests, aha! moments, celebrity master classes, and people finding their truths and living their own best lives was there a snicker of malice or a hint of raillery," she wrote.
Still, Stanley said, the channel "lives up to the Oprah Winfrey ethos -- a "meaningful, mindful" cable network that seeks its own truth and tries to be its own best self."
Caryn James, the former New York Times critic who now blogs at IndieWire, wrote that the network had "a whiff of spirituality, a huge amount of life-style fluff, and a surprising layer of substance," though she cautioned that the shows on offer--which include reality shows centered around celebrities such as the Judds, Shania Twain and Sarah Ferguson, as well as programs with Oprah stablemates like Dr. Phil and Gayle King--were not for the non-Oprah fans out there. James sounded an optimistic note about some of the more serious documentary programming to come on the channel as well.
Mediaite publisher Dan Abrams — who has experience in cable television, having run MSNBC — was full of praise for OWN. He said that he had been skeptical of the network's ability to break through the cluttered cable market, even with such a powerful person at its center. However, after watching OWN over the weekend, Abrams wrote that the channel speaks "with a clear, crisp voice and identity that every cable network strives so desperately to achieve." He also predicted that OWN's relentless focus on positivity and self-improvement would turn it into a haven for audiences and advertisers seeking a rest from some of the coarser corners of the television landscape.
Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz committed himself to watch an entire day of the network. Zoller Seitz assured readers that he was not a fan of Oprah, and that he had begun his experiment by resolving not to "succumb to [Oprah's] cult-of-personality Amway malarkey." He had plenty of bile for some of the shows on the channel, and wrote that the will.i.am-penned theme song almost had him "weaving a noose from nylon recycling twine and scrawling a farewell note."
However, he wrote, the channel slowly started to work its way into his brain, and he found himself starting to care about Jay-Z while watching an episode of OWN's "Master Class," where celebrities talk about their life and talents. By the end of the day, Zoller Seitz said, "I have succumbed to Stockholm syndrome and am making lists of clutter to remove from my own home and resolving to enroll immediately in a cooking class...damn you, Oprah Winfrey, and Happy New Year."
The most negative review came from The Root's Jennifer Mabry. She pronounced herself "disappointed" by the programming for OWN, which, she said, "seems content to follow the new television model of programming that exploded in the wake of the 2008 Hollywood writers' strike: Find anyone with a heartbeat and a willingness to have cameras follow them during their ordinary day-to-day life, and voilà -- we've got ourselves a TV show!"