Does Lindsay Lohan Make Oprah’s Network Relevant or Desperate?

LindsayOprah WInfrey Network

We don’t normally think of Oprah Winfrey as being desperate. The Queen of All Media is one of the most powerful women in the world and could buy several small countries if she so chooses. But, as any number of entertainment executives could’ve told her, cable television is a whole different animal. Winfrey’s OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) has been around since 2011, but is only available to about 73 percent of the viewing public (for comparison, cable giants like TNT and ESPN reach about 86 percent). For a cable network to grow, it needs buzz and, with only a few exceptions, OWN has had very little. So, how does Winfrey’s network go about generating some excitement?

By hitching its wagon to Lindsay Lohan’s flaming star.

Winfrey interviewed Lohan when she was fresh out of her sixth stint in rehab for substance abuse last August and almost immediately began filming the actress for a “docu-series” called simply Lindsay. Presumably, this was to chronicle the struggles that a recovering addict faces. Of course, that’s how VH1 tried to sell Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, too.

In reality, what it amounts to is filming someone drowning. During the initial interview with Winfrey, Lohan came away sounding like she was poised and in control. She also sounded like she had been coached and was still carrying a healthy amount of denial.

The premier episode of Lindsay showed just how far the actress has to go to really become a contributing member of society. She refused to go to a scheduled Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because she didn’t want to deal with paparazzi. She backed out of commitments to promote her movie The Canyons, causing director Paul Schrader to call her out to the media. (Not that Schrader is all that innocent; he used Lohan’s extensive nudity in the film to help market it.) And, she backed out of a commitment to help a friend promote a lingerie line… which was the right move, but brought into question her judgment for agreeing to it in the first place.

Worse, it was clear that the people around Lohan are still afraid to tell her when she’s wrong. She berated a real estate agent over the phone because he wasn’t giving her what she wanted during an apartment search in Manhattan… and it seem that mostly what the guy didn’t want to say is that no one wants to rent an apartment to Lindsay Lohan. Her “sober coach” let her off the hook for skipping the AA meeting. And, her personal assistant seems sick of dealing with her and appears to just be sticking around for some screen time.

In a clip that OWN released last week to promote the show — and subsequently took down — Winfrey herself pays a visit when Lohan begins avoiding the camera crews of her own show. Winfrey tells Lohan that she needs to “cut the bulls**t.” That’s a great start, but in showing Winfrey confronting Lohan and separately stating “this is what everyone said was going to happen” as she’s riding to the meeting, it comes across as Winfrey trying to make sure that there’s damage control if the show really goes south.

Lindsay doesn’t have the kitschiness of The Anna Nicole Show on E! and its subject isn’t teetering quite so close to the edge as Bravo’s Being Bobby Brown showed Whitney Houston to be, but it does share something in common with both — a participant that is in a downward spiral and clearly has no idea how to stop, surrounded by people with seemingly little interest in actually helping. Just as with those shows, the process of being filmed for a “reality” series becomes just another enabling mechanism. It might be better for their personal well-being for celebrities to disappear while they try to straighten out their lives, but it’s not better for their finances.

As with its predecessors, there are moments of Lindsay where you want someone besides Winfrey to step out from behind the camera and try to talk some sense into Lohan. The previews for future episodes promise not just more of the same self-involved prattle from the actress — in one clip she’s confronting her assistant about his tone — but also appearance by her sycophant parents.

OWN is getting plenty of publicity for Lindsay and has made it a social networking opportunity, playing up tweets from viewers with their comments about the show and Lohan. It might even help Winfrey’s channel get added to more basic cable packages and reach more viewers.

Winfrey, however, started her network with a promise of providing uplifting and empowering entertainment. With Lindsay, the network is choosing the same kind of attention grabbing programming as every other cable broadcaster. There’s nothing wrong with that — it is a business, after all — but if you’re going to set yourself up as being above the fray, which Oprah has, then there’s going to be collateral damage when you jump in with both feet.

Lohan has dragged down plenty during her continuous descent… it will be a shame if Winfrey’s and OWN’s integrity joins the list.