Can O.J. Simpson Save the OWN Network?

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After a year of farewell episodes that culminated in one breathtaking display of celebrity bukkake, Oprah Winfrey has finally left the building. But her plans to decompress on a remote isle with Gayle in a double-wide hammock will have to wait: As she admitted to a crowd at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention in Chicago yesterday, Oprah poured all her energy into her own show, leaving her new cable network to flounder. Now it’s time to turn that ship around.

"I need to be there,” she said. “I need to be engaged and be involved. I let other people worry about the ratings.” One obvious area for improvement lies in the fact that there is almost no Oprah on the Oprah Winfrey Network. That will be corrected, however, with a new interview series—called Oprah’s Next Chapter—that will air several times a week.

Asked who would be her dream interviews for the new show, Oprah gave an interesting reply. First, she named Susan Smith, the woman from South Carolina who's currently serving a life sentence for drowning her two young sons in 1994. The second, equally lurid, would be O.J. Simpson—whom she would only interview if he promises to admit to one, little thing.

“I have a dream of O.J. Simpson confessing to me,” she told the crowd. She then put the pitch out directly to Simpson: "I want the interview on the condition that you are ready, Mr. Simpson. And I am going to make that happen, people." It was a pledge met by cheers of approval.

How, exactly, do those two interviews jive with the sentiments of her last episode? You know, the ones where Winfrey encouraged us to “connect. Embrace. Liberate. Love somebody. Just one person. And then spread that to two. And as many as you can”? Well, the easy answer is that it doesn’t. This isn’t touchy-feely Oprah; this is Oprah in ratings predator mode. The Oprah who refuses to fail.

Could she make good on her promise to deliver an O.J. confession? I don’t doubt it. Simpson is a textbook narcissist in addition to being a sociopath (the two are soulmates), and, as he sits in a jail cell for a lesser crime, the allure of an hour or two spent in the presence of the Big O might prove to be too great to resist. But whether or not she gets him, her intentions are clear: If Oprah wants to pull in eyeballs, she’s going to have to let go of her “live your best life” New Age mumbo jumbo and start getting her hands dirty.

We should hardly be surprised. While we tend to associate Oprah with audience giveaways and celebrity tongue baths, she has always demonstrated an appetite for the sensational and a flare for the sinister. For example, a recent episode of her talk show was dedicated to the relatives of serial killers, and featured Rev. Jim Jones’ son and John Wayne Gacy’s sister. This is the kind of material that A&E; has spun into ratings gold. But can OWN move in on that territory without tarnishing Winfrey’s brand? She’s set herself up with quite the challenge. No other network has ever attempted to align itself with a single person’s point of view.

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