Oprah channels more effort
Daytime television queen is determined to stay on course, writes Lynn Elber
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.’’