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john doyle: television

Rarely has so much attention been paid to such little substance.

Well, okay, attention to emptiness happens in the TV racket, but this is a special instance. If we are to believe the press and promotional hype, "excitement and anticipation" has been building toward the launch today in Canada of OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. It's a specialty channel, and if your cable or satellite package gives you about 100 channels, you probably get it. It used to be the VIVA channel, a little-noticed outlet aimed at educated women over the age of 30, or something. Now VIVA is OWN.

But what do I know of OWN? Well, I can tell you that the "charter sponsors" of the channel are The Brick, General Mills Canada, L'Oréal Canada and Nissan. According to Corus, the outfit that owns OWN (one can imagine the meetings - people high-fiving and yelping "We own OWN!"), the sponsorship packages "may include contests, branded content, product integration opportunities, blended tune-in spots, programming lineups, as well as an online campaign including big box and leader board ads." Okey-dokey. Thrills. Go on, go on, sell us more soap.

The actual program content of OWN is less clear, as is its potential appeal and success.

OWN's program lineup features, for now, such shows as Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, Ask Oprah's All Stars with Suze Orman, Oprah Presents Master Class, Enough Already! with Peter Walsh, The Gayle King Show, Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl Of Love and In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman. Canadians shows will include Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, Fearless in the Kitchen and Healthy Gourmet.

Nothing stands out. Nothing gives one the sense that OWN is anything more or better than any lifestyle channel offering advice on cooking, shopping and having a better marriage. Perhaps when Oprah Winfrey actually concludes her daytime chat show later this year and inserts herself emphatically into the channel, it will be worth some attention. And, possibly, because Winfrey can be a great interviewer, Oprah Presents Master Class, a series of in-depth interviews with politicians and artists, will be good television when it actually airs.

It's even possible that Why Not? With Shania Twain, coming later this year, will be mind-boggling. It does, after all, "follow Twain as she begins her climb back to the top, a personal journey filled with risk, revelations and unexpected adventures." On the other hand, it could be no better than most reality-TV series chronicling a celebrity's "personal journey."

In the meantime, it's fair to speculate that with OWN, Winfrey is merely taking her empire to the next level, but in so doing she is delivering a pretty empty channel. Its impact in the United States has been much smaller than anticipated. When OWN launched there January, it initially had one million viewers, good numbers for a specialty channel. But a month later, the number was halved.

"The intention of this channel is to bring good energy," Winfrey said when OWN was launched. Right on and all, but since when does "good energy" emanate from mind-numbingly boring? So far, OWN looks like it might be better named BORING.

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20/20 (ABC, 10 p.m.) is devoted entirely to an interview with the delusional Charlie Sheen. If the teasers shown on ABC's morning show are any indication, Sheen looks a very sick man, someone whose link to reality is now somewhere between fragile and non-existent. His TV show's been shut down, he's spewed vile insults and says he's suing CBS. He also says he is in talks with HBO for a show, which HBO has denied. It is one of the harsh truths of the news business (not just television, but the entire news business) that this special, repulsive though it may be, was inevitable. If Sheen wants to talk, there'd an interviewer and an audience ready to pay attention.

The interview is conducted by Andrea Canning, a Canadian who is a rising star at ABC. Canning, from Ontario, started with a Barrie TV station here and has been based in multiple U.S. cities for ABC. Her marriage a few years ago to a U.S. Marine pilot got the full celebrity-wedding treatment in The New York Times. (The wedding was in Collingwood, Ont., if you need to know.) One hopes she will eventually be known for something more substantial than getting a chat with the train-wreck Charlie Sheen.

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The Good Wife (CBC, Global, 10 p.m.) is better than good tonight. The storyline has the law firm suing a social-networking site on behalf of a Chinese dissident, who was jailed and tortured after his IP address was given to the Chinese authorities. The debates about American businesses operating in China are very spiky and the attacks on the self-aggrandizing owner of the site are gripping to watch. There's even a brief insertion of mentions of the Internet's role in recent events in Egypt.

Check local listings.