Oprah Winfrey’s New Free Apple TV+ Series Puts Coronavirus Stories Front and Center

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For people looking for guidance and perspective from a familiar, trusted voice amid the intensifying coronavirus panic, Oprah Winfrey has returned to TV—well, to Apple streaming service Apple TV+.

Over the weekend, Winfrey kicked off Oprah Talks Covid-19, a series focused on the pandemic that is part of a multiyear partnership she struck with Apple TV+ in 2018. The talk show host and streaming service have already pushed out two 30-minute episodes about the ongoing pandemic, and will continue releasing coronavirus-centered installments weekly for the immediate future.

The first episode, which rolled out Saturday, features an interview between Winfrey and actor Idris Elba, who tested positive for Covid-19 and is now quarantined in New Mexico along with his wife, model Sabrina Dhowre. (Dhowre has also tested positive, she told Winfrey.)

In the second episode, released Sunday, Winfrey speaks with Wintley Phipps, a pastor and close friend, who discusses faith and gratitude in the age of coronavirus. Both interviews were conducted via FaceTime video calls.

“Like millions of people all over the world, I’ve been staying safer at home for over a week now,” Winfrey said on Twitter about the new episodes. “I know a lot of people are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, & uncertain. Bc of that, I want to offer some hope & gather thought leaders & people going through it to add some perspective.”

For fans of Winfrey’s interview style, both episodes feature a classic Winfrey-like sensibility centered primarily on the lessons to be learned about reactions to the virus, and how people can remain centered and purposeful in times of crisis.

“I think we all lose as human beings if we just think of this as a physical virus,” Winfrey told Elba during the first episode. “It’s here to teach us, show us something about ourselves as individuals and also as a world of people. And this is a moment for our humanity to either rise or not.”

Unlike the rest of Apple TV+’s programming, which requires a $4.99-a-month subscription fee, both episodes of Oprah Talks Covid-19 are available to stream for free. While it’s unclear exactly how long the series will stretch, subsequent episodes will be released weekly; those new episodes will also be available for free.

With the news program, Apple TV+, a somewhat unlikely entrant into the streaming wars, has become the first streamer to release standalone on-demand programming dealing directly with the growing pandemic. On other services like Netflix, viewership of pandemic-related movies and documentaries is spiking, and viewership across streamers is expected to surge more and more people are being told to stay at home.

The Oprah Talks Covid-19 episodes reflect the limited production capabilities for show creation when crews are staying home to limit the spread of the virus amid an intensifying pandemic. That lower production value is already an occasional feature on some morning and late-night programming, whose schedules have been upended by coronavirus shutdowns and stay-home orders, but has not been seen before on Apple TV+, which has otherwise focused its efforts on high production value efforts like the award-winning The Morning Show and other series.

Apple’s decision to make the show available for free without an Apple TV+ subscription comes as some other streamers put programming in front of their paywalls due to the virus and its effects on the U.S.

Amazon on Monday made some kids programming available to viewers without a Prime subscription as many families face childcare and school closures related to the virus’ spread.

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