Oprah's Network And More New TV Treats Host Liane Hansen speaks with Jeff Jensen, senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, about the launch of OWN, Oprah Winfrey's new cable network, and a host of new programming coming to the airwaves this season.

Oprah's Network And More New TV Treats

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January is a great time of year to cocoon on the couch with a nice cocktail. After all that holiday cheer, you're probably tired. And all you want to do is watch a little television. Well, January is a good time for that, too. It begins what's called the Shoulder Season, when networks offer both new shows and season premieres of existing ones.

And this year, a new network had its debut. To learn more, we've reached Jeff Jensen on a phone line with a few technical problems. He's a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly in Los Angeles.

And Jeff, before we get to some of the new shows that are getting buzz, on New Year's Day, the Oprah Winfrey Network - or OWN - went on the air. How was the first week of broadcasts?

Mr. JEFF JENSEN (Senior Writer, Entertainment Weekly): Well, it struck me as something of Oprah light. It certainly came with a lot of high expectations, and it seems that they weren't totally met. And it certainly seemed capable of living up to that hype last week. You know, it launched with like, 1 million viewers on a weekend. But then it started to drop significantly over the week to a more middling figure - though competitive with rival networks like Oxygen and Lifetime.

And so it's not a cultural force. It's off to a good start but maybe not the start that people thought that an Oprah network would launch to.

HANSEN: Speaking of cultural forces, American Idol returns this month, without two of the three original judges. Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul are gone. Steven Tyler, lead singer for Aerosmith, and Jennifer Lopez will replace them. Are there other changes?

Mr. JENSEN: Oh, yeah. There's going to be changes to some key rounds in the competition. For example, instead of - sort of like stretching out the cutting down of 24 final contestants over three weeks, they're going to do that in one week, in a real - kind of compelling and dramatic way.

There's going to be changes to the set. There's going to be changes to the whole mentor process. We'll see if it works. You know, I kind of dont know if this is sort of like American Idol 2.0," or if this is sort of like the cover band version of "American Idol."

HANSEN: Let's talk about some premium channels. Tonight on Showtime, William H. Macy stars as the head of a dysfunctional Chicago family. And it's actually an adaptation of a British show. And there are two other remakes debuting tonight. Another one on Showtime, with Matt LeBlanc, and one on PBS. What's up with the British invasion?

Mr. JENSEN: Whats up with the British invasion, I think, is networks - both on cable and broadcast - kind of desperate to like, find new energy and new, creative ideas. Cable has developed a really good - sort of formula for finding some success you know, edgy material that can be a showcase for a strong actor.

William H. Macy is like, just one of the most respected character actors. "Shameless" is a really good fit for Showtime. Showtime loves these shows about really messy, edgy men whose lives are kind of falling apart, and they're engaged in high-risk behavior.

Characters like "Dexter" or "Californication," with David Duchovny.

HANSEN: Right. Oh, but we have to - on the distaff side, you've got "Weeds" - with a woman with a crazy family.

Mr. JENSEN: I know. Yeah, I mean, like cable is the home of our antiheroes - you know, people taking some chances to sort of make ends meet. You know, "Breaking Bad" is all about that and it's like, one of the best shows on television.

You know, with "Shameless," I just dont know, though. A single father, he's a drunk, he's got to make the kids take care of themselves - I dont know if I want to watch that.

HANSEN: Other, smaller networks - I mean, the USA network, TNT - their original programming during the season seems to be doing very well - I mean, shows like "Burn Notice," "Men of a Certain Age," "White Collar." Why do you think these shows are doing so well?

Mr. JENSEN: I think TNT and USA are doing really well for themselves because they have sort of identified just a very specific niche that they're trying to hit. And they're offering solid, fun entertainment that broadcast television used to do really well - shows like "Covert Affairs" and "Psyched"; "The Closer" is one of my favorite shows. They found these real great, compelling showcases for movie actors to sort of come to TV, and sort of try their wares there.

HANSEN: Finally, the networks, whats coming up? As a geek, I imagine you're looking forward to NBCs "The Cape."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JENSEN: I love the superhero stuff. And this superhero show - "The Cape" revels in the superhero conventions. It has a costume that comes to life. It's a show that actually kind of believes in heroism in a rather cynical world. I had a good time watching "The Cape."

HANSEN: The winter press tour was held in Pasadena, California. Thats where people like you get to see the new shows and the new stars. Is there one thing that really made you, you know, take your eyes off your BlackBerry and pay attention?

Mr. JENSEN: I think that two of the huge events of this sort of second half of the television season actually come at the end, when we see a genre that is going to be really risky, it's going to be really expensive but it's going to get a lot of attention. And this is sort of like the sci-fi fantasy epic.

HBO has a show called "Game of Thrones," thats sort of adapted from a series of novels that are very popular. There's a lot of heat on that show.

And then there's "Terra Nova," thats going to launch with a two-hour movie. It's from producer Steven Spielberg. The premise is that people from the future have to go to the distant past and colonize - sort of like primeval times -because the future has become too toxic to live.

And these are examples of very expensive, sci-fi genre stuff that could capture a lot of imaginations - or be extremely expensive failures.

HANSEN: Our apologies for the technical issues with the phone line.

Jeff Jensen is a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly. Several new TV shows, and new episodes of established series, begin tonight. Thanks, Jeff. Don't spend too much time on the couch.

Mr. JENSEN: Thank you very much for having me.

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

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