OPRAH TALKS THE TALK
How the queen of television made her own celebrity confession, then got her groove back
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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