Oprah Winfrey says she’s ready for whatever happens with OWN


LOS ANGELES — Soon it will be time to measure the Oprah bounce.

Saturday, a switch was flipped and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network became available in nearly 85 million homes. It was the most
highly anticipated launch of a new cable channel in more than a decade,
in large part because of the pedigree of its founders. Discovery Communications, Winfrey’s partner in the venture, has contributed channel space and has paid more than $110 million
in start-up costs. Winfrey, too, has much riding on the channel’s
success. She lent her name, website and programming vision, realizing
the results will help shape her legacy.

The television industry has been eager to see
whether the power of Winfrey — she can drive sales of books, candles
and other products with a mere mention on her show — will translate
into throngs of viewers flocking to her new cable channel.

Winfrey hesitated before moving forward with OWN. In
O, The Oprah Magazine, she wrote that she was initially fearful that
she would not be able to duplicate what she’d done with “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and that gave her pause. She eventually came to terms with the
cable channel not necessarily being a way to create a “new phenomena”
but instead as an opportunity to continue doing what she loves. And she
knew that after 25 years it would be time to end her daytime talk show.

“In the late ’80s, I stopped making television just
to make television and started making television that was going to
service the viewer,” Winfrey said in a telephone interview before
Saturday’s premiere. “And that’s the foundation for this network, and
that’s why I think that the network is going to work. I’m betting on
myself because no one else programs this way, thinking about the
viewers the way that we do.”

Although the channel is available in about 85
percent of the homes in the U.S. that have cable and satellite TV,
Winfrey and Discovery sought to tamp down expectations of a big launch.
Winfrey professes to having devoted only 10 percent of her time to the
formation of OWN. Instead, she has been focused on the final season of
her syndicated talk show, which will end production in May with its
closing episode airing in September. Nonetheless, her stamp on OWN will
be apparent.

A marquee show on the new channel will be “Oprah
Presents Master Class,” a biography series showcasing Winfrey’s
conversations with such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Condoleezza Rice, Diane Sawyer and Simon Cowell. Twenty-five episodes of “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes” will follow the making of the final season of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Personalities nurtured by Winfrey, including Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz, will be featured in prime time. Winfrey herself encouraged the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson,
to participate in a six-episode documentary series called “Finding
Sarah,” which, according to OWN, will explore Ferguson’s “lifelong
battles with weight, relationships and finances.”

Winfrey said she is not worried about the ratings
produced by shows during the channel’s first few months — despite the
harsh glare of the spotlight.

“We will make adjustments as we go along,” she said. “It’s only going to get better.”

She is ready for pointed critiques and second-guessing that come with being part of such a high-profile enterprise.

“You know that you are not going to satisfy
everyone, but that’s what maturity does for you,” Winfrey said. “I am
really prepared for all of the criticism, all of the snarky ‘could’ve’
and ‘should’ves.’ But that doesn’t matter. This launch is the birthing
of my baby; it’s not the raising of the baby, and that’s the important

Besides, she has had experience getting crushed by
less-than-hoped-for results of an opening weekend. Winfrey said she was
devastated following the 1998 release of the film “Beloved.” In its
first weekend, Winfrey’s pet project about a former slave, based on a
Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison, came in third at the box office, behind the Sandra Bullock film “Practical Magic” and “Bride of Chucky.”

The horror of watching her movie, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Winfrey, being trumped by an evil doll sent her into a depression and eating binge.

“I’m not going to go into a macaroni-and-cheese
tailspin again,” Winfrey said. “This is about having a vision about
something that’s bigger than yourself.”


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