Oprah Giveth and Oprah Taketh Away

By Elaine Liner Archives
Cover image for  article: Oprah Giveth and Oprah Taketh Away

Week Two UPDATE:
The second live Oprah webcast went off without a hitch Monday night. Only eight more "classes" to go to discover our real purpose in life.
Only one new problem on this week's session--author Eckhart Tolle appears to be growing one of those moustache-less, Amish-like beards.
UPDATE: The following statement was emailed this morning to everyone who registered for  Oprah's Web seminar Monday night.
"Monday night's webcast was one of the largest single online events in the history of the Internet. More than 500,000 of you simultaneously logged on to watch Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle live, resulting in 242 Gbps of information moving through the Internet. Unfortunately, some of you experienced delays in viewing the webcast. We are working to identify the specific causes for the problems experienced and will work diligently to rectify them.

"Harpo Productions, Inc., Move Networks and Limelight Networks recognize that interactive Internet broadcasting to a mass audience is still an emerging medium, and we're proud to have been pioneers in pushing the industry forward. We deeply regret that some of you were not able to participate in Monday night's live Web event and that others did not have an optimal viewing experience. The first session of the webinar will be available in its entirety for viewing on Oprah.com or for downloading as a podcast on Oprah.com or iTunes on Tuesday, March 4."
Big week for Oprah. Her new ABC reality show Oprah’s Big Give was a ratings champ Sunday night, drawing 15.6 million viewers and delivering a 5.3 rating/12 share. Then her live webcast “class” with A New Earth author Eckhart Tolle premiered Monday night, attracting half a million online viewers from around the globe.
Grades: C-minus for Big Give. “Incomplete” for the online class.
“Let’s get class started,” the talk show queen announced at the opening of the first online session. The 90-minute “classes” are scheduled to happen live at Oprah.com at 9 p.m. ET for the next nine Mondays. Interaction with “students” comes in the form of emailed questions and video conferencing via Skype. At the top of the webcast Oprah welcomed the hundreds of thousands (more likely millions) of viewers from around the globe who had pre-registered for the course and were tuning in on their computers simultaneously.
If the premiere event is any indication of how Professor Oprah’s class is going to go, however, expect a substantial dropout rate.
The problems encountered by this Web viewer Monday night were mostly technical. Even before getting a “seat” in the class (that’s how Oprah puts it), participants have to jump through lots of hoops. Besides buying the book ($14, paperback), each class member has to register for the course online (free), then log in to download and print out a workbook, and install a special video viewing program, plus disable pop-up blockers and make a special veggie puree pizza from a recipe by Chef Jamie Oliver.
Oh, wait. The pizza was supposed to be made to eat during Oprah’s Big Give Sunday night. Seriously. Oliver, one of OBG’s trio of celebrity judges, showed how to make it on the Oprah show last Friday.
I did all the prep work for the New Earth course, including reading the first chapter about how staring at flowers makes you forget your troubles, and I checked in online Monday at 8:57 p.m. Immediately, I encountered snags. The live video feed was slow to load and then never ran smoothly. The feed stuttered, dropped out, lost audio and then finally froze my computer screen.
Two restarts later, I gave up. By then 40 minutes of the webcast had passed and, like a student who misses the first day of school, I was worried about what I hadn’t seen. (A message on Oprah’s Web site warned of expected technical blips due to the overwhelming response for the live feed.)
Good thing Oprah provides online repeats and downloads (via iTunes) the day after each class. I’ll try to play catch-up, but it would have been fun to see it in real time.
The biggest non-tech prob with the project might be Tolle. The metaphysical author speaks with a strong German accent and has a flat affect that’s off-putting. His face never seems to register any emotion as he lectures in a whispery monotone.
The topic of the online course is “Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” Oprah endorsed Tolle’s book by saying she had “aha moment after aha moment” as she read and reread it. She was introduced to Tolle’s earlier book, The Power of Now, by actress Meg Ryan.
Oprah said she had the idea for the online course while interviewing Tolle on her spirituality-centered XM Satellite radio show.
So, is Oprah still wondering what her life’s purpose is? Really? And if she’s still confused, what hope is there for the rest of us mere mortals?
A different sort of soul-searching might be in order for the participants of Oprah’s Big Give. The show combines the avarice and arguments of The Apprentice with the tear-jerking manipulation of down-and-outers seen on Extreme Makeover and, going back to the dawn of television, the mawkish giveaway show Queen for a Day.
Sunday night’s premiere episode was a hot mess of contradictory motives and confusing instructions (Why do the teams of players get only $2500?). The sloppy editing left out key information viewers need: Where are the recipients of Oprah’s largesse located? Why were these people chosen? How and why did they apply to be on the show?
As the timeline seemed to jump from night to day to night without explanation, we watched teams of two attempt to beat each other at the vague task of “giving the most” to some families in need. One team appeared to employ the Celebrity Apprentice approach of dialing up corporate bigwigs and movie stars and asking for five-figure handouts. Actor Jamie Foxx forked over $50K, but how did they get to him? What was the secret of making that connection? And were the corporations that handed over money and products doing it for the right reasons or for the major mentions on an Oprah-connected prime time show? Wouldn’t it be more honestly charitable for everyone involved not to invoke O’s name at every turn?
Some of the donations seemed so…misguided. A homeless woman and her two teens were recipients of a free car, $50,000 for new housing and the services of a financial adviser. But in her weepy thank-you on-camera, the poor woman hinted that what she really needed was job training to give her a chance at a career that could sustain her family’s future.
Big Give echoed that old adage about giving a hungry man a fish so he can eat for a day. Oprah’s new show handed some needy people a lot of fish in the form of gifts, cash and cars. But wouldn’t they be better off learning to fish so they can eat for a lifetime?
Meanwhile, the celebrity judges—Chef Oliver, Malaak Compton-Rock (Chris Rock’s wife) and interior decorator Nate Berkus—decided which contestants were the best givers and who had failed. What the players don’t know is that the one of them will win $1 million at the end of the series.
That’s the part of Big Give that seems quintessentially Oprah. She’s never been one to be quietly charitable. Her talk show has featured many an hour devoted to showing the world how much money she pours into her special charities and causes. And remember her prime time special about the opening of her girls’ school in Africa?
She’s one who likes to give big as long as she receives big credit for it publicly.
There’s an aha-moment in there somewhere.
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