Oprah Winfrey's 'Your OWN Show': Mark Burnett and Zach Anner address voting controversy
Oprah Winfrey launched "Your OWN Show" because, in her words, she "wants to give somebody else the chance that was given to me over 25 years ago." Executive producers Mark Burnett, along with hosts Nancy O'Dell and Carson Kressley ("I'm Suze Ormond," quipped Kressley) stopped by the TCA Press Tour on Thursday to introduce the 10 contestants.
One of the contestants, Zach Anner, has been the subject of some controversy due to some of the online voting, but Burnett impresses upon us that that controversy shouldn't overshadow the winner of the online poll. "The true web celeb is Dr. Tony Roach," he says, referring to one of the contestants, a minister who looks to spread a message of self-esteem. "Because he won the online poll to find his place within the past. I can't really even remember what the issue was."
Anner, a comedian with cerebral palsy, describes his potential show as "a travel show for the travel challenged, whether you have a physical disability or just don't have the money to travel. It's going to show you everything that can possibly go wrong and show you that the adventure is about the attitude."
He received support from celebrities like John Mayer and David Hasselhoff, but many fans felt the contest was rigged against him after 300,000 last-minute votes came in for another contestant. "I just know that there was so much positive stuff that I always just tried to focus on the positive," Anner says. "Because the internet is crazy, that's what it does, it does crazy stuff."
Though the contestants appear supportive of each other on stage, there is certainly tension between them. O'Dell says that managing that tension is part of the challenge. "They're competing to have their own show produced by Oprah, so you can imagine the stakes are very high," she says. "But the thing that Oprah says in the first episode and that these people learned, is that it takes a village. You need to see how they resolve the conflicts and deal with that."
Every year on "American Idol," there are debates about whether the contestants are actually amateurs. Burnett says that they didn't take experience into consideration when choosing contestants for "Your OWN Show." Some have on-camera experience, others have become local celebrities in their own right.
"The overriding core values of our casting was to not discriminate in any way whether it was gender, age, disability, or experience," he says. "Yes, we thought about it, and we decided it was a fair way to approach it to not discriminate. We weren't putting Nancy O'Dell, host of 'Entertainment Tonight' on there [as a contestant]. It wasn't that. It's people who have had some experience, but we weren't putting bonafide stars on a show and skewing it."
Burnett didn't hesitate to hitch his apple wagon to OWN. "If Oprah would've asked me to ride a unicycle naked backward at night, I would've said 'Where do I sign up,'" he says.
"I would've said, 'Where do I go to watch?'" Kressley adds.
OWN has made a six-episode commitment to the winner. "Being selected for this competition, winning this competition, and having these resources gives them a great shot at becoming a hit and becoming a regular feature on the network," says OWN CEO Christina Norman.
Oprah BFF Gayle King thinks that's a great prize. "Considering you don't have no talk show, yeah! Nobody knew who you were yesterday, now you have the opportunity to have six shows on the Oprah network? I think that's pretty damn cool."