• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Oprah wasted $89 mil on net 'indecision'

Admits she was the 'holdup' with programming on OWN

Oprah Winfrey admits she was once afraid her OWN network would never live up to the success of her daytime TV show.

"All the bells went off. This is why I lived in fear about this network. I kept thinking I have to repeat the 25-year phenomenon of the 'Oprah' show. I don't want to be Michael Jackson," she tells Fortune magazine, referring to the pop singer once saying he'd never be able to top 1983's "Thriller."

But now?

"My fear about, 'Will the people really follow me?' -- I'm past that," Winfrey says.

Still, getting the network, which is due to launch early next year, off the ground was a challenge.

Winfrey admits she was indecisive about the show lineup, causing backer Discovery Communications to invest an extra $89 million on top of its $100 million launch money. OWN CEO Christina Norman, who joined the network after leaving MTV as chief, was unable to greenlight any series without Winfrey's input.

"This is part of the reason OWN was stagnant," Winfrey says. "I was the holdup."

Also nagging Winfrey: Rosie O'Donnell having her own show after polarizing viewers on "The View." She brought Tom Freston, Norman and OWN chief creative officer Lisa Erspamer to O'Donnell's suburban New York home to vet O'Donnell this past June.

Recalls Winfrey, "Rosie said, 'I know you're here to assess how crazy I am.' I said, 'Basically, yes. I'm doing a crazy check."

After seeing her kids running around in the back yard, Winfrey says of O'Donnell, "What I found is that she is so generous as a mother."

But Winfrey banned O'Donnell from airing any grievances on her blog or radio show, as she did with Barbara Walters: "If you have an issue that's causing a problem, speak to me, woman to woman, so that it doesn't become a worldwide issue."

Winfrey downplays that she's concerned about O'Donnell's potentially abrasive effect on viewers. "No, it doesn't worry me," she insists to Fortune. When asked if she thinks about it, she replies crisply, "Of course."

She's also not too worried if the network is not an immediate success. But that doesn't mean she doesn't think it will be.

"No -- technically, I don't think in terms of being in the top 10. But do I think we will be? Yes," Winfrey says.

According to analysts Fortune cites, OWN could be worth $3 billion or more within a few years -- and she owns half of it. Winfrey is worth $3 billion currently.