Oprah back walk­ing the walk

Holly Byrnes dis­sects how Oprah Win­frey made her own celeb con­fes­sion, faced fail­ure, then wrote her next suc­cess­ful chap­ter

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TV -

OPRAH Win­frey knows a break­down when she sees it. Dis­sect­ing the hu­man frail­ties of su­per­stars, ed­u­cat­ing a new gen­er­a­tion about the pow­ers of self- help and build­ing a me­dia em­pire on that mix has been the TV mogul’s stock- in- trade over more than three decades of her high- profi le ca­reer.

But when the 59- year- old re­cently ad­mit­ted she’d men­tally unravelled, af­ter her fl edgling Oprah Win­frey Net­work – OWN for short – strug­gled to fi nd its feet, it was one celebrity con­fes­sion worth not­ing.

Swamped by neg­a­tive head­lines over the chan­nel’s poor rat­ings, staffi ng is­sues and the ax­ing of early star sign­ings such as Rosie O’Donnell, the crit­i­cism weighed heav­ily on the woman many saw for the fi rst time as fal­li­ble.

It was dur­ing one of her OWN in­ter­views with con­tro­ver­sial Kony 2012 ac­tivist Ja­son Rus­sell, when Win­frey said she recog­nised in her­self the same de­pres­sive symp­toms which had trig­gered his pub­lic melt­down ( a shock­ing mo­ment caught on video then sent around the world, with the same speed as his anti- African child slav­ery cause had gone be­fore­hand).

Days later, pre­par­ing to record voice- overs for other shows, she hit break­ing point.

“I re­mem­ber clos­ing my eyes while I was read­ing. I thought, ‘ I can­not have another thing en­ter my brain’. I just needed to pull back.”

Re­treat­ing to part­ner St­ed­man Gra­ham for ad­vice, the world’s most fa­mous life coach faced some­thing long- un­fa­mil­iar to her – fail­ure – then came up with a new plan to do what she does best – suc­ceed again.

What was miss­ing from OWN, she re­alised, was Win­frey her­self.

The net­work’s re­cov­ery over the past 18 months is pegged al­most en­tirely to giv­ing view­ers what they had loved about The Oprah Win­frey Show for its record 25- year run: Oprah.

Get­ting back to her “truth”, Win­frey head­lined weekly “pul­pit- style” pro­gram, Su­per Soul Sun­days, where philoso­phers, evan­ge­lists, ac­tors and au­thors would join her to share per­sonal sto­ries and en­cour­age oth­ers to “live their best lives”.

Away from talk ter­ri­tory, OWN part­nered with Tyler Perry to pro­duce its fi rst scripted se­ries, The Haves And Have Nots ( a sort of South­ern­style Down­ton Abbey, which has posted record rat­ings for OWN).

Last month, Win­frey confi rmed she would team with US cable net­work HBO to pro­duce a new com­edy se­ries based on an up­com­ing book about drug ther­apy called Moody Bitches: The Truth About The Drugs You’re Tak­ing, The Sex You’re Not Hav­ing, The Sleep You’re Miss­ing and What’s Re­ally Mak­ing You Crazy.

But at­tract­ing the most at­ten­tion has been Oprah re­unit­ing with her celebrity friends for Oprah’s Next Chap­ter, with top- rat­ing sit- downs with Whit­ney Houston’s fam­ily ( watched by 3.5 mil­lion US view­ers), dis­graced cy­clist Lance Arm­strong ( 3.2 mil­lion) and pop star, Ri­hanna ( 2.5 mil­lion).

A sam­pling of the A- list episodes to air on Foxtel’s Dis­cov­ery Health chan­nel this sum­mer is a tes­ta­ment to Win­frey’s con­tin­ued power and infl uence.

Each in­ter­view made news for Win­frey and her star guests, cho­sen not only for their celebrity but clev­erly for their me­dia cur­rency.

Of course, that for­mula hasn’t worked ev­ery time.

Win­frey’s de­ci­sion to take on the task of rehabilitating Lind­say Lo­han, with a cam­era crew in tow, gen­er­ated head­lines around the world, but pulled a mea­gre US au­di­ence of just 892,000 peo­ple when Lo­han’s fi rst post- re­hab in­ter­view aired in Au­gust.

Still, later that month, Win­frey told Watch What Hap­pens Live host Andy Co­hen she and her net­work were on the im­prove.

“You have to hun­ker down. There’s no such thing as fail­ure: it’s God telling you to move in another di­rec­tion,” she said, in true Win­frey fash­ion.

“All th­ese years I’ve been telling peo­ple to hang in there, to hold on to their dreams, be stead­fast in their vi­sion and I went, ‘ Oh, now I get to walk that walk, and not just talk it’.”


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