Oprah on Her Final Hurrah

Robin Layton/OWN

How her team is planning the finale without her, and what she’s learned about cable and raising ratings so far.

Oprah Winfrey is busy putting together the 30 shows she still has to tape before her talk show goes dark in September after 25 years. But she has no idea what is planned for the final two episodes — those are being kept secret from her by producer Sheri Salata.

“I’m allowing for Sheri and the team to plan two days of full surprises,” Winfrey, 57, tells THR from her Harpo offices in Chicago. “I had to pray on that … and get a guarantee from Sheri there would be no strippers or dancing people coming out of shells.”

The mogul is facing early ratings struggles for her OWN Network. Two months in, it is averaging about 135,000 viewers, according to Nielsen — less than Discovery Health, the network it replaced. But Winfrey admits OWN is a work in progress and that more original content is needed.

“We’re building, night by night by night,” she says. “What everyone told me about the cable business is, you start with a couple of shows, people are used to repeats. Oprah viewers were not!”

To that end, co-owner Discovery Communications is adding $50 million more to the venture, on top of the $189 million it has already contributed, a cost that Discovery topper David Zaslav recently told investors is because of “increased programming investment.”

One bright spot for OWN so far is Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, which averages about 550,000 viewers and has seen a 40 percent increase in the key demo of women 25-54 from DVR usage. It offers unprecedented access to Winfrey and her Harpo team and suggests that OWN might lure more eyeballs when she launches Oprah’s Next Chapter, the talk show Winfrey will host once she puts her current one to bed.

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