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Oprah, Time to Take a Lesson from Yourself

January 5, 2011

Like many of you out there, I have been watching the new Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Yep, I tuned in New Year’s Day to watch the premiere and stayed glued through “Season 25” and Peter Walsh. And as I watched the network and glimpsed at the upcoming programming, I was struck by how the power of television was shifting.

But aside from my awe and great anticipation for the Judds reality show, I was really hit by something when watching “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes.” And that, dare I say it, was a bit of hypocrisy by Oprah herself.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always liked Oprah. I record her show and have had many “a ha” moments watching it. She’s done great things for humanity; has gotten our nation reading; and thanks to her, I wear the correct bra. In fact, I struggled with whether to even write this post because I don’t want this to be a criticism-fest. But as amazing as she is, I felt the need to point out this dissonance.

Throughout her show and magazine, Oprah constantly brings up the theme of balance. She is a proponent of work/life balance, and believes that’s key to living your best life. So what I found so fascinating was it was VERY clear watching “Season 25” that Oprah expects nothing less than a huge time commitment from her staff, which many of the staffers admitted has caused them to not see their families, sometimes work around the clock, and not have any life balance. And Oprah believes in this. She herself said working on her show was not a 9 – 5 gig; it was constant and her employees must fully commit to the lifestyle. She’s working 24/7 and expects her staff to do the same and deliver nothing short of perfection.

Clearly we viewers reap the benefits of that perfection and she’s #1 because she expects nothing less. And that’s okay. I just question how one can continually spout the importance of balance and living a tranquil life when she and her staff are epitomizing the complete opposite.

Another interesting contradiction with the OWN network is the fact that it’s an expanded cable network. This means that one can only enjoy the benefits of OWN by paying for more than basic cable. I was saddened by a woman’s comment on the OWN message board who said she wishes she could enjoy Oprah and the network. But because she’s older, she cannot afford to pay another $55 a month for cable.

Oprah talks about access and education for everyone. And her show has made it possible for thousands to learn about topics they never would have before. So it is a bit sad that this amazing programming and education is being offered at a cost.

I understand the only way for Oprah to get her own network is to buy one that exists on expanded cable. I get that; I really do. But I think it’s also important to realize that she’s not practicing what she’s preaching.

Given all this, will I stop watching OWN? No.

Will I stop watching Oprah? No

Do I think she’s a bad person? No

Do I see contradictions and flaws in Oprah herself? Yes.

I recognize by writing this I may be blacklisted by Oprah or receive criticisms of myself and my life choices. But in order for me to live my best life, I had to write about what I observed and hope these thoughts give some readers their own “a ha” moment. After all, Oprah would expect nothing less.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2011 1:32 am

    I can agree with what you’re saying. oprah has said that she would NEVER do a behind the scenes, and I think one of her major reasons were her awareness of what it could represent. the behind the scenes actually remind me of Devil Wears Prada. people literally change directions & make way when she is walking. her producers are constantly stressed that they’re going to get yelled at/fired. and her whole life is dedicated to Harpo.

    like you mentioned, am I gonna stop watching OWN? no. am I gonna be anti-Oprah? no.

    as for the cable/$ debate, it takes a lot of $ to produce quality shows and if she were to buy a standard network such as ABC, CBS, NBC it would be bombarded with ads & sponsors because she would need that $ to produce the kind of shows she and her amazing staff create.

    • leahsinger permalink
      January 6, 2011 8:52 am

      You have a great point about the money it takes to create the quality programming. And yes, I was reminded of Miranda Priestly too!

  2. January 6, 2011 8:50 am

    I think your post is dead-on. And unfortunately I don’t think it’s limited just to Oprah — I think in general employers talk a lot about work/life balance, but then the expectations in order to get noticed, promoted or just do the job exceedingly well often require the scales tip in favor of work. Of course some employers are better at it than others (and some are great at it). All that said, I, too, am excited about the OWN network!

    • leahsinger permalink
      January 6, 2011 10:00 pm

      You are so right. It’s beyond Oprah.

  3. Becky permalink
    January 7, 2011 8:53 pm

    Good points SB! I think everyone has to define what balance is going to mean for them and make those judgment calls for themselves.

    Some people I know choose to work through lunch or stay late into the evenings to work. I choose not to do that. It’s more important to me that I stay focused and efficient when I’m there for a traditional 8 hour day. I’m not efficient or productive if I don’t take breaks or work extended periods of time. But some folks like to work 12 hours or more and get satisfaction from that. They balance their lives in other ways. I think what companies need to make sure they’re doing is allow for flexibility. Respect the choices and allow the room for people to make them. No one way is right or wrong, they’re all just different. Only we know the proper balance for ourselves and we’re all so different it isn’t possible to have one right way. Some people are morning people. Some people are evening people.

    That is the beauty of choice. There is no failure in choosing one over the other. Everyone has got to have the support and encouragement from each other to find what works best for them. The happier and more satisfied we can be in our own individual choices and allow others to do the same will bring the balance I think we’re all striving for.

    And I can guarantee you. If my CEO walked through my office, I’d happily give him room. The man’s got many more meetings and a busier schedule than I do ; ). And that? Is just fine by me.

  4. January 10, 2011 9:48 am

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I am an Oprah devotee- I love her show, and I think I had a small period of mourning when it was announced that this is her last season. However, I have watched the first 2 episodes of Season 25, and I was pretty flabbergasted by the expectations she has for her employees. Obviously, all of the employees have the choice to leave and look for another job (I’m sure with Harpo on your resume, you wouldn’t have a hard time), but the seeming lack of balance with those she works closest with does go against what she preaches to her audience. I finished the show a little disenchanted. But like you, it won’t stop me from watching. 🙂

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