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Oprah's OWN Wins Over Cynics But Many Fans Lost Out

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(Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey's bold gamble on her OWN TV network debuted to mostly positive reviews and encouraging audience numbers at the weekend, winning over some cynics with its feel-good tone.

But many stalwart Oprah fans expressed dismay that they could not receive the new OWN network without paying to upgrade their cable television packages -- money that several said they could not afford.

The OWN network, a joint venture between the influential talk show host and Discovery Communications that is aimed mostly at middle-aged women, made its debut on Saturday after three years of planning.

According to preliminary Nielsen figures, OWN was watched by an average one million Americans in prime time on Saturday, and was the third biggest ad-supported cable network with women aged 25-54.

Daytime talk show "The Oprah Winfrey Show", on free-to-air ABC, attracts about six million U.S. viewers daily. Winfrey, 56, will end the show in the fall of 2011 to focus on OWN.

Initial OWN programing included a behind-the-scenes show about the making of the last season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show", lifestyle advice from the likes of Dr. Phil MGraw and Suze Orman, and the first of a series of in-depth interviews with celebrities including record producer Jay-Z and journalist Diane Sawyer.

New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley called the channel a "no cynicism zone" which had "not a snicker of malice or a hint of raillery." Caryn James at Indiewire noted that beneath the "huge amount of lifestyle fluff" there was "a surprising layer of substance."

Media blogger Dan Abrams, a former general manager at cable news channel MSNBC, said his skepticism over whether OWN could create a clear identity in a crowded market had been overcome.

OWN's mission of self-discovery and celebration of one's own "best self" has impeccable timing, Abrams said.

"Weary Americans have grown fatigued with the national sports of bickering and finger pointing. Many are now seeking out a safe place on television far removed from the partisan hectoring, staged altercations and alcohol-induced 'hook-ups' that have come to dominate the airwaves," Abrams wrote in a column for his Mediaite.com website.

Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon.com said he was won over, to his surprise. "We won't just watch OWN; we will gaze upon it with awe and affection and marvel at the sweet magnificence of its founder," he said.

OWN is available in some 80 million homes, or 67 percent of U.S. households, on the channel that used to be occupied by Discovery Health. But many of Winfrey's millions of loyal fans were upset to find they could not access OWN without forking over hundreds of dollars extra to cable TV providers.

"I just cannot tell you how disillusioned (Oprah said "watch, watch, watch my new network") & disappointed. Oprah, did I miss the show that told us your new network was gonna cost us (the viewer) $$$$." wrote joeyskc on the OWN message boards on Monday.

A fan in New Orleans congratulated Winfrey on the new venture, but was concerned that "many people in our area will not be able to watch" the pay-to-view OWN channel. "We love you and will miss you," added Chey925.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

Jackson Doctor Defense May Say Singer Killed Self

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(Reuters) - Lawyers for the doctor charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson could claim the pop star killed himself when a hearing begins next week, a prosecutor said on Wednesday.

In a court session to discuss evidence in the case against Dr. Conrad Murray, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said he believes it is clear defense attorneys are looking into that theory, which has long been a consideration.

Outside the courtroom, Murray's attorney J. Michael Flanagan declined to comment on Walgren's statement.

"I'm not going to respond to that characterization. But apparently it is a consideration of Mr. Walgren," Flanagan told reporters.

Walgren spoke at a hearing in which a judge cleared the way for Murray's defense to test residue from syringes and an IV tube used to administer drugs to Jackson.

The "Thriller" singer died at age 50 on June 25, 2009, of an overdose of prescription drugs, primarily the powerful anesthetic propofol which can be used in surgery. Other drugs in Jackson's system included lorazepam, known under the brand names Ativan and Temesta, and diazepam, the generic version of Valium.

Murray, hired as Jackson's physician while the singer prepared for a series of concerts that would have begun in July 2009, has admitted giving Jackson propofol to help him sleep. But Murray has pleaded not guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The court session on the syringe testing came only days before a January 4 start date for a preliminary hearing in which a judge will decide if there is enough evidence against Murray to proceed to a full trial.

Representatives for the prosecution and defense told Reuters they expect the preliminary hearing to begin as planned and take roughly two weeks to complete.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

Jennifer Hudson 'Feeling Good' About Weight Loss

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(Reuters) - She won't say how much weight she lost, but singer/actress Jennifer Hudson will say that in the nine months she's been a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, she has never felt better.

Hudson is even singing about it in a new tune, "Feeling Good," which is part of an ad campaign the dieting firm is launching on December 26 to coincide with its new nutritional PointsPlus program.

Weight Watchers said roughly 11 percent of its annual attendance at meetings takes place in January, as Americans look to atone for their holiday-related binges.

"Basically (the song) is the perfect way to describe this journey and how it's left me feeling," Hudson told Reuters. "If I could bottle everything inside me and tell others to help motivate them, then this is it."

Hudson and her gospel-grounded voice found their place on Hollywood's starmaking menu in 2004 when she was a finalist on "American Idol," and further when she won an Oscar for her supporting role in the 2006 musical "Dreamgirls." But in an industry obsessed with skinny women, Hudson has been challenged by her big size.

In April, Hudson announced she would become the new spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. It was about seven months after the birth of her son, David Jr., and at that time she had already lost some weight. By August, she told InStyle Makeover magazine she'd dropped to a size 6 from a size 16.

The company's marketing chief, Cheryl Callan, called Hudson a great spokeswoman because people identify with her as a real woman who struggles with weight and eating issues, yet has found success in Hollywood.

Hudson blogs about her diet on Weight Watchers' website, and she said that building a network of friends and a community of followers among the diet community gives her as much pleasure as losing weight has.

"That goes back to why I did the song," Hudson said. "I know so many people out there who are on the same path. Anything I can do to help them along, that motivates me, and inspires me."

Yet, Hudson said she is still grappling with knowing herself in her thinner frame. She said she still feels like the same woman, but is aware that people now view her differently.

"It's almost like there is a new person, but there is still the question of how do I want to represent myself, how do I want to be perceived," she said.

She knows one thing, however, she is sticking to Weight Watchers in the new year. She has embraced its new PointsPlus program, which does away with calorie counting and assigns points to foods based on their overall nutritional value.

The new program favors foods that more easily convert to energy that is used, create a sense of satisfaction and encourage the consumption of natural foods versus those with added sugar and fat.

"It's one thing to lose weight," said Hudson, "but it's another thing to eat healthy."

(Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Dean Goodman)

Kenny Lattimore and Celebrities to Perform at Holiday Toy Drive

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By Natasha Ferguson –

The Elite City Foundation (EFC) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization founded by actor, writer, producer and R&B vocalist Willie Latimore.

The center was recently opened with the vision of mentoring and empowering inner city kids by offering a platform in which to expose youth and young adults in the area of arts through vocational training in various related fields including music, dance, production and more.

EFC has partnered with the County of Los Angeles to host ‘The Arts of Giving Toy and Gift Drive’ to benefit needy children. The foundation’s goal is to collect 1,000 to 3,000 toys and donations for Performing Arts Multimedia Scholarships at the Elite City Foundation Complex located at 11422 So. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles, Calif. The holiday drive, which started December 7, will continue collecting items through this Friday December 17. Donations for this holiday toy and gift drive will go toward scholarships for the foundation in the following areas: dance classes, martial arts/self-defense, fitness classes, piano, guitar, drum and violin lessons, vocal training, acting classes, photography/ videography, Web and graphic design, as well as professional studio recording time.

The toy/gift drive will end with a celebratory event to be held at the Elite City Complex on Saturday, December 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Special celebrity guests scheduled to perform at this gala event include: Grammy-nominated recording artist, Kenny Lattimore; the legendary Paul Jackson Jr.; Def Jam recording artist, Abraham McDonald; founder of Elite City Foundation, Willie Latimore; and many more! A host of other celebrities expected include actress Charnele Brown from the TV Show ‘A Different World’, as well as some of the industries’ top choreographers, fitness trainers, and various community and religious leaders. In addition, there will be free dance and fitness class demonstrations, a free professional holiday photo by Celebrity Photographer to the Stars: Arnold Turner/Wire Image, a performance tribute by surprise special guests and more! “We are very appreciative of everyone’s generosity of time and resources to make this toy/gift drive possible and a huge success,” said Latimore.

“We look forward to making this event an annual holiday tradition.”

Toys and gifts are being collected for ages 2 up to 18. For monetary contributions please visit www.theartsofgiving.org orwww.elitecityfoundation.org.

For a list of confirmed Los Angeles participating facilities where you can drop off your toy and gift donations contact ECF. Donations are also being accepted by U.S. mail, or hand-delivery to the Elite City Complex at 11422 So. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles Calif. 90044 (call the foundation at 323-756-7871 prior to delivery).

Following the morning event, there will be an adult benefit concert supporting ‘The Arts of Giving Toy and Gift Drive’ at The Elite City Complex on December 18 with doors open at 7 p.m. The evening portion of the program is hosted by David Mitchell, editor and chief of Amalgam Magazine. Entry is a $10 donation. This celebration will include music, dancing, socializing and lots of fun with many special invited guests in attendance spreading some holiday cheer.

ECF believes that as we give cheerfully, empathize with the needs of others and sow a seed in fertile ground, an abundance of harvest and blessings are inevitable.

Aretha Franklin Reported to Have Pancreatic Cancer

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(Reuters) - Soul singer Aretha Franklin, who recently underwent surgery for an undisclosed health issue, was reported to be suffering from pancreatic cancer, the Detroit News said on its web site.

Publicists for the 68-year-old singer, who has canceled all her appearances through May 2011, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Detroit News report on Wednesday cited a source familiar with the situation for the cancer diagnosis, an illness which the report pointed out has a poor prognosis.

Separately, the Fox television station in Detroit reported the same diagnosis for the "Queen of Soul," citing a close relative as the source. The report said she was doing "OK."

After the surgery, Franklin released a statement December 2 that she had undergone "highly successful surgery" but did not disclose the nature of her illness.

The legendary singer of 1960s hits like "Chain of Fools" and "Respect" had continued a busy schedule of touring and recording until late October.

In January 2009, she sang at the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

(Writing by Andrew Stern, editing by Greg McCune)

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