Oprah chan­nels more ef­fort

Day­time tele­vi­sion queen is de­ter­mined to stay on course, writes Lynn Elber

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TV -

OPRAH Win­frey earned the rare op­por­tu­nity to con­vert her me­dia charisma into a mono­grammed TV chan­nel. Now she’s the one tasked with res­cu­ing OWN, the Oprah Win­frey Net­work, af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing first year.

It’s a high-stakes, po­ten­tially egoshat­ter­ing chal­lenge that could make the strong­est wo­man or man flinch. But win or lose, Win­frey says she rel­ishes the fight to turn around OWN’S for­tunes.

‘‘Yes, some mis­takes were made. Who hasn’t made mis­takes? The real beauty is you can say, ‘I learned from that’,’’ Win­frey said. ‘‘I don’t worry about fail­ure. I worry about, ‘Did I do all I could do?’ ’’

The cable chan­nel, which marked its first year on Jan­uary 1, at­tempts a fresh start af­ter ex­ec­u­tive turnover and mis­steps that proved OWN lacked a solid foun­da­tion on which to build. This was de­spite a Dis­cov­ery Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­vest­ment of a re­ported $A247.33 mil­lion and count­ing.

View­ers snubbed a line-up that skimped on pro­gram­ming and, sur­pris­ingly, what should have been OWN’S unique weapon of choice: Win­frey her­self, whose lim­ited on-air pres­ence will be boosted on Sun­day with a new weekly se­ries, Oprah’s Next Chap­ter.

OWN has failed to im­prove on, or even match, the modest rat­ings and small au­di­ence earned by the low-pro­file Dis­cov­ery Health chan­nel it re­placed.

Win­frey says man­age­ment team er­rors in plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion could serve as a cau­tion­ary tale, but re­jects the idea that a sin­gle year’s per­for­mance will de­ter­mine her fate.

‘‘Some­body was talk­ing to me in that kind of sad­dened, ‘How are you?’ tone, and I was think­ing, ‘I’m fine’,’’ says Win­frey, 57, who ruled as the queen of day­time TV un­til she ended her talk show af­ter 25 years and turned her at­ten­tion to the chan­nel.

‘‘I re­alised the rea­son peo­ple have this tone is they’re read­ing all the press (about OWN), so you see me and won­der if I can still walk. . . . I am a de­ter­mined and com­mit­ted wo­man. I don’t give up. I’m just get­ting started.

‘‘Any­body who’s ever worked with a chan­nel, who’s ever done any­thing, has said it takes three to five years.

‘‘You have to do the work . . . You do not have to pay at­ten­tion to the crit­i­cism.’

Year two for OWN will re­flect ex­ec­u­tive changes made last July, when Win­frey ex­panded her role at the chan­nel by adding the roles of chief ex­ec­u­tive and chief creative of­fi­cer to her po­si­tion as chair­man.

Oprah Win­frey at home with Steve Tyler for Oprah’s Next Chap­ter Dis­cov­ery Com­mu­ni­ca­tions COO Peter Liguori had filled in as in­terim head af­ter OWN CEO Christina Nor­man was dis­missed in the wake of poor rat­ings.

This year, the pro­gram­ming line-up will be beefed up, most no­tably with Oprah’s Next Chap­ter. The weekly se­ries de­buts in the US on Sun­day with Win­frey’s visit to the New Hamp­shire home of Steven Tyler.

Next Chap­ter turns the once stu­diobound Win­frey into a globe-trot­ting in­ter­viewer who drops into the home of a Ha­sidic Jewish fam­ily in New York, Ge­orge Lu­cas’s Sky­walker Ranch in Cal­i­for­nia and cook Paula Deen’s Ge­or­gia es­tate. There is also a trip with Sean Penn to Haiti and with Deepak Cho­pra to In­dia.

Win­frey at­tributes the chan­nel’s rough start to a ba­sic er­ror: The lack of a li­brary of pro­gram­ming for the many hours of air­time not filled by orig­i­nal shows, com­pounded by over­con­fi­dence about her mar­ket value in gen­eral.

‘‘I don’t un­der­stand what any­body was think­ing. You’re go­ing on the air, you’ve got four shows. What do you think you’re go­ing to do by Tues­day? Did they think peo­ple were go­ing to turn on the chan­nel just be­cause it had my name on it?’’ she says.

‘‘Peo­ple didn’t turn on The Oprah Win­frey Show be­cause my name was on it. It was ab­so­lutely topic driven ev­ery day.’’

Such modest ex­pres­sions aside, Win­frey’s in­volve­ment clearly is key to the chan­nel’s suc­cess. She’s glad to make the com­mit­ment, she says.

Win­frey, who de­scribes her­self as ob­sessed with rat­ings for the first time in her ca­reer, says she’s giv­ing OWN ‘‘every­thing I’ve got. I’ve spent more en­ergy do­ing this than any­thing I’ve ever done in my whole life’’.

With good rea­son: ‘‘I walked in to­day (to OWN’S of­fices) and felt up­lifted to see my name on the door, Oprah Win­frey Net­work. Just to . . . be able to sit in a room with a team of peo­ple pre­sent­ing you with ideas – what a gift that is.’’

It has also made OWN her ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Win­frey claims to have an un­likely sound­ing Plan B if the chan­nel falls short.

‘‘If this doesn’t work out, I’m go­ing to go into or­ganic farm­ing in Maui. And I’m not kid­ding.’’

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