Your OWN Show is an Apprentice and Design Star knock-off that almost works

Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next Big Star is a weird show. It’s The Apprentice plus HGTV’s Design Star, with the charm of neither show, nor does it have any of Oprah Winfrey or her philosophy. But it is still watchable and sometimes engaging, assuming you find the central challenge interesting, because it’s repeated each week.

As executive produced by Mark Burnett, the series emphasizes team-based challenges: each week, a team has to put on a new three-minute show, with a few people on camera and a few people off camera, and interviews with someone famous like Dr. Phil or Arsenio Hall. These are tough to pull off, and like with an Apprentice challenge, it’s amusing to watch them make (usually bad) decisions and then see the ramifications of that when they produce their segment. Unlike the design challenges on Design Star, these work okay as team challenges (though it’d be nice to see them compete individually). They basically do the exact same challenge every week, just with a different guest and slightly different format, and that’s not as bad as it sounds, because it’s certainly a challenge.

That’s where the fun ends, alas.

After watching three episodes of the competition, I think actually understand why Mark Burnett got so pissed off at me at the start of our interview, when I tossed him a softball by comparing this show to Design Star. The reason: He thinks he’s producing The Apprentice, when instead he should be knocking off not his own show, but The Next Food Network Star, which is consistently awesome and the best get-your-own-TV-show show. The Apprentice rip-offs are almost laughable, from the exit walk of shame to the camera panning from one team’s war room door to the other.

I’ll assign this to his arrogance, because he wouldn’t admit there was a difference between Design Star and The Apprentice in our conversation, which suggests that he’s convinced that one format–the one he imported to the US for Survivor and then tweaked for Donald Trump–is the best way to produce a competition show. It is not, especially because those two shows rely on interpersonal conflict and/or strategy and big, sometimes awful personalities.

Would I want to watch any of the people on Your OWN Show if they had their own show? Probably not. I wonder if Oprah watched any of these episodes and cringed at their back stabbing, complaining, and general annoyingness. We’ve seen the two male comedians, Zach and Ryan, be funny, but I can’t imagine them sustaining a series. Most contestants seem like cannon fodder, like eliminated contestants Aunt Flora (who twitched her way through two interviews), Eric (who used his chance at redemption to be passive aggressive), and Leigh (who choked).

Perhaps worse is that few of them are even close to being television personalities. Next Food Network Star gives its contestants constant on-camera challenges and then tons of feedback about how to improve (which we get to hear), so although they aren’t exactly being trained, they do have the opportunity to learn and grow. Here they’re just thrown into a challenge and then critiqued, at least after Kohl’s gets its product placement in.

While the postmortem Q&A works okay, the judges–Nancy O’Dell, Carson Kressley, and the week’s guest–deliberate without letting us hear any of it. That’s the single worst part of Design Star, which got worse this last season. It’s inexcusable that on a competition series we don’t get to hear the judges discuss, even if they do offer brief summation; we don’t need to watch them whisper to each other.

The Apprentice gets away with having no real discussion because we recognize that the decisions are arbitrary and Trump’s alone, and there’s no need for actual deliberation with his sycophants–I mean, kids Plus, Trump does a good job of articulating what he’s thinking, even when it’s hypocritical, irrational, or nonsensical.

If Oprah were in the Trump role here, maybe the format would work. But she’s not–there’s surprisingly little Oprah here, which is either a good or bad thing, depending upon what you think about her–and so the show needs to not be The Apprentice. But at least in the moments when it’s copying that show’s challenges, it’s decent TV.

Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next Big Star: C+

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.