TV Review: Oprah gives reality TV a positive spin

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It's not coincidental that "Oprah's Big Give" (9 p.m. Sunday, WTAE) airs after ABC's feel-good "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Like "Home Edition," "Oprah's Big Give" is an uplifting hour that sends a positive message: It's better to give than to receive.

But make no mistake: "Oprah's Big Give" is not a public service. It may do some good, but it's still a piece of TV entertainment that, first and foremost, must succeed as a revenue generator for ABC. That realistic, not cynical, caveat aside, "Big Give" is certainly more positive than "Big Brother" or numerous other reality shows.

In Sunday's premiere, the Big O herself narrates and calls the 10 people selected to be Big Givers (why she affects accents while calling each of the contestants will likely remain a mystery known only to Oprah herself).

'Oprah's Big Give'
  • When: 9 p.m. Sunday, ABC.

The Big Givers are charged with raising money for specific people in need, and they're judged on their work by an incredibly random panel of judges: "Naked chef" Jamie Oliver, NFL superstar Tony Gonzalez, and wife of Chris Rock, Malaak Compton-Rock.

Nate Berkus, Oprah's in-house design guru, is ostensibly the host of "The Big Give," but he has precious little to do in this first hour. Don't be surprised if he comes more to the forefront in the coming weeks.

The 10 Big Givers come from all walks of life (dot-com millionaire, beauty pageant contestant, woman paralyzed by a drunk driver, West Point grad). In the first episode, contestants are sent out in teams of two on missions to raise money for assorted people in need, including a mother of two whose husband was gunned down in the store he managed six weeks earlier, a homeless mother with two teenagers, a young soon-to-be doctor from the 'hood with mounting school bills, a woman who runs a center for people with disabilities in need of a new facility. It's up to each team to raise money in any way they see fit.

"You either give big or you go home," Oprah declares in one of the rare on-screen moments where she's not yelling every other word (for no good reason) in patented Oprah style.

Some teams are quite entrepreneurial; others make bizarre choices, like staging a fashion show for a person with no relationship to the fashion industry. "The Big Give" begins to resemble "The Apprentice" as teams are judged on their creativity, leadership, presentation and accomplishments.

Oliver calls the fashion show concept "vague and random," so you know a member of that squabbling team may be sent packing. (Yes, even though they're working for a good cause, the contestants still manage to get into fights and create all sorts of silly drama.)

Of course, you can ask, why does all this doing of good have to be televised? Why parade a crime victim and her daughters in front of the camera for entertainment purposes?

Because it's still TV, it's still show business, emphasis on business.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-1112. Ask TV questions at under TV Q&A.


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