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New series review: Oprah's Big Give (ABC)

Premiering: Sunday, March 2nd, 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Oprah Winfrey (more or less) and a gaggle of judges and contestants
Produced by: Oprah Winfrey

It's already been pretty firmly established that Oprah Winfrey doesn't give anything away without all of us poor saps hearing about it.

Now she's got a prime-time forum from which to shout out, "Your first challenge starts No-w-w-w!!!

Oprah's Big Give, sandwiched between the like-minded Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and something called Here Come the Newlyweds, spreads its do-goodism thicker than Britney Spears' skull. It's also another great opportunity for corporations -- and casinos for that matter -- to portray themselves as selfless Good Samaritans.

The end results seem laudable, though, even if the competitions among teams aren't exactly believable. It's nice when Joe and Josette Blow -- in this case paraplegic Carlana and university researcher "Sheg" -- can call on Jamie Foxx to drop $50 grand toward payment of an idealistic med student's school loans. Other celebs scheduled to appear during an eight-episode run include John Travolta, Jennifer Aniston, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Andre Agassi and the ubiquitous Tony Hawk.

Winfrey sets the stage by asking viewers, "What would you do if someone handed you a bundle of money? But there's a twist. You have to give all that money away."

There's an extra climactic twist, too. In the end, the show's anointed "Biggest Giver" will get a $1 million grand prize.

The ABC show deploys 10 contestants gleaned from auditions after "word spread fast about my new show," says Winfrey.

She informs each of them via the telephone, initially disguising her voice for some reason. One of the lucky ones is almost insane with joy. Another responds matter-of-factly before Winfrey gathers them all at "Big Give Headquarters" to spell out the rules of the road.

Contestants initially are provided with $2,500 apiece and pictures of people who "desperately" need them. Five teams are formed, with each getting a black "Big Give" SUV as transportation.

It's impossible to believe that the recipients of the show's largesse are even remotely surprised when Big Give comes calling. If they were, why would they let complete strangers into their homes, workplaces, etc.? But no one suspects a scam or confidence game when told, "Hi, I'm from the Big Give."

Real estate developer Stephen and his partner, disaster relief worker Eric, arrive on the doorstep of A.J. Egan. She's a widow with two young daughters whose husband was murdered while working at Home Depot. The two men instantly gain her trust while also becoming veritable surrogate dads to the two girls.

Others in dire straits include a homeless woman with two older children and no transportation, and a medically discharged war veteran who's unsure how he'll provide for his family.

The teams get five days to make these various dreams come true before returning to the mothership for judgment day. Until then, Big Give never misses a beat in terms of laying on the mood music.

Your nominal host, after Winfrey's quick exit, is Nate Berkus, a frequent contributor to her daytime show. Judges are "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver, NFL star Tony Gonzalez and Chris Rock's wife, Malaak Compton-Rock.

The entire enterprise feels contrived and in no small part cloying. But if worthy people are helped in these tough times, then more power to Oprah's Big Give. At least it has a heart.

Grade: C+