On Sunday, Oprah Winfrey will try to conquer reality TV with Oprah’s Big Give, which debuts at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
The eight-episode series is a competition between 10 people who work “to change the lives of complete strangers in the most creative and dramatic ways,” according to ABC. In the first episode, for example, they’re challenged to change a stranger’s life in five days. One person will be eliminated each week after being judged by Jamie Oliver, Tony Gonzalez, and Malaak Compton-Rock.
The network promises “big Hollywood stars” such as “Jennifer Aniston, John Travolta and Jada Pinkett-Smith, tennis legend Andre Agassi, skateboarding idol Tony Hawk, [and] racing star Danica Patrick.” So, in other words, three big Hollywood stars. There’s also product placement thanks to Target, Ford, and Sprint.
Nate Berkus hosts, and he tells TV Guide that “It’s like a roller-coaster with constant drama.These people are exhausted, they’re away from their families, it’s a pressure-filled, competitive setting. You see it all — glory, inspiration, breakdowns, tears, screaming matches.”
Critical reaction seems to be mixed, but with heavy emphasis on the negative. USA TODAY’s Robert Bianco says the show “will strike you as immensely uplifting or horrifyingly vulgar, or an odd combo of both.” The Sacramento Bee’s Rick Kushman says it “comes from the overused reality-show handbook” and is “so worn and cheesy that you’ll get cynical and snippy.” And The Denver Post’s Joanne Ostrow says it is “a little bit shameless, a little bit uplifting, a tad maudlin, a touch hopeful. And a lot irresistible for those who like to watch ‘The Apprentice’ but feel guilty about it.” And The Hollywood Reporter’s Ray Richmond gives Oprah her worst review, saying the show is “a profoundly hyperkinetic and unwieldy adventure in product placement, in Oprah-as-Messiah hype and, ultimately, in what’s so utterly fake and insidious about ‘reality’ television itself. … Shallow as a birdbath, the program would appear to exist less as a true philanthropic exercise than yet another self-aggrandizing vehicle in Oprah’s divine quest to become synonymous with all that is virtuous and good on Earth.”