Just as it takes a television series several episodes -- heck, sometimes even a full season -- to find its creative footing, so it is with TV networks.
NBC lost its way years ago and continues to scrape along the bottom of the ratings barrel; ABC is also in fairly dire straits. Even if they squandered it over time, at least those networks had a profile and an established brand to begin with.
You could argue that OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network has a brand -- Oprah! -- but she's more mascot than brand despite a lot of talk about "living your best life." So far, viewers remain unconvinced. Last month, Deadline.com reported that ratings for OWN among advertiser-coveted viewers ages 25-54 were down during the first quarter almost 4 percent year-to-year compared to Discovery Health, the channel OWN replaced.
Last month, Winfrey acknowledged the rocky road OWN has had since its January launch.
"We're all about raising this child, and it does indeed take a village," Winfrey told ad buyers at Discovery Networks' upfront presentation. "We are all learning more and more about the viewers."
Many viewer complaints about OWN have been related to an abundance of reruns and lack of fresh programming. The channel started to rectify that issue last month with the addition of "Kidnapped by the Kids" (children take their workaholic parents away from their jobs), "Addicted to Food" (a reality series set at a treatment center) and "The Judds" (docu-series that follows Naomi and Wynonna Judd on their first concert tour in 10 years).
Ratings began to perk up a bit with "Addicted to Food" growing its audience by 55 percent in the key demo year-to-year.
OWN is preparing a reality series starring Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, and a daily talk show hosted by Rosie O'Donnell that will begin in September.
This coming week, OWN introduces a new series and a special. The series is a dull celeb-reality comeback story, but the special covers a less familiar topic.
Why not Shania Twain?
Once a top musical act, Canadian singer Shania Twain struggles to regain her ability to perform in front of an audience following the dissolution of her marriage. On the premiere episode (repeating Monday at 8 p.m.), Twain reveals her tabloid-ready personal life: Twain's husband cheated on her with a female friend -- and now Twain is engaged to that friend's ex-husband! Clearly this show does not fall into the "celebrities, they're just like us" genre, even though it seems like it wants to be.
"Sometimes I wish for a smaller life," Twain says in the second episode of the series just before a visit to The Shania Twain Centre that collects memorabilia from her career. "My life is always too big for me. It's been too big for me for a very, very, long time."
Yes, those are the world's tiniest violins you hear playing.
The first two episodes offer biographical sketches of Twain, who grew up with an abusive stepfather and lost her mother and stepfather in a car accident while her siblings were still underage. Twain's sister, Carrie, is a grounding presence on "Why not?"
But viewers may wonder, "Why?" If Twain is coming back from a rough patch in her life, why is it necessary to do that in front of reality-show cameras?
At least with this special there's some new insight to be gained. Stories that go "behind the music" are a dime a dozen, but a 90-minute film about a person changing gender is rarer.
"Becoming Chaz" (7 p.m. Tuesday) compassionately and pretty thoroughly explores the decision and process that Chastity Bono -- daughter of Sonny Bono and Cher -- undertook to become a man named Chaz.
The film gives viewers a brief history of transgender milestones and introduces viewers to Chaz's partner, Jenny, who has been with him for five years, since before he began the physical transformation from a woman to a man.
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato interview Chaz about the decision (as a teen, Chaz prayed to wake up as a boy) and include interviews with other people in his life, including Cher and Chaz's stepmother, U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., Sonny's widow. (Mack is more accepting of Chaz's decision to transition than Cher.)
The film traces Chaz through breast-removal surgery and chronicles the changes in his body and personality that follow and how that impacts his relationship with Jenny. Viewers see Chaz reconnect with old friends and hear Cher express misgivings about Chaz's choices. (Cher also mixes up the pronouns used to refer to Chaz.)
The film ends with Chaz in a better place mentally, although whether his relationship with Jenny survives remains an open question. "Becoming Chaz" tells a thought-provoking story of one person's journey while also illuminating the history of and challenges faced by transgender Americans.