How the queen of tele­vi­sion made her own celebrity con­fes­sion, then got her groove back

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - FRONT PAGE -

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-pro­file ca­reer.

But when the 59-yearold re­cently ad­mit­ted she’d men­tally unravelled her­self, af­ter her fledg­ling Oprah Win­frey Net­work – OWN for short – strug­gled to find its feet, it was one celebrity con­fes­sion worth not­ing.

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

It was dur­ing one of her OWN in­ter­views with con­tro­ver­sial Kony 2012 ac­tivist Ja­son Rus­sell, when Win­frey says 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 come 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”, Oprah head­lined a weekly “pul­pit” style pro­gram, Su­per Soul Sun­days, where philoso­phers, evan­ge­lists, ac­tors and au­thors would join Win­frey to share per­sonal sto­ries and en­cour­age oth­ers to “live their best lives”.

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

Last month, Win­frey con­firmed 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 Home and Health chan­nel this sum­mer – is a tes­ta­ment to Win­frey’s con­tin­ued power and in­flu­ence.

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 first 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 Oprah 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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