Oprah Winfrey Admits to 'Bumps' at OWN
Oprah Winfrey admitted that if she had the launch of OWN to do all over again: “I’d probably do it differently.”
Speaking at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual Cable Show in Chicago, Winfrey conceded that there have been "bumps" in the run-up and launch of OWN, her joint venture with Discovery Communications. But she says now that her talk show has wrapped after a 25-year run, she is 100 percent "committed" to growing OWN.
“This is the moment I’ve been waiting for for the past two years,” she said. “I need to be there. I need to be engaged and involved.”
The network launched January 1 to healthy ratings as the curious tuned in after a full-court media blitz by Winfrey. But the network’s ratings quickly came down to Earth and have failed to meet expectations amid ballooning programming costs.
“I told people I was having a network and so my audience came thinking it’s all there,” said Winfrey during the marquee Q&A with Investigation Discovery’s Paula Zahn Thursday morning.
The launch of the channel was twice delayed amid a revolving door of executives. Then last month, Christina Norman, who came from MTV to launch OWN, was ousted as CEO with Discovery COO Peter Liguori stepping in as interim CEO.
Winfrey said her intention is to “serve the viewer” and she “let’s other people worry about ratings,” adding that she does not even open emails her staff sends her about coverage of the network’s troubles. She admitted it is difficult for her to delegate and relinquish some control after 25 years of micromanaging her talk show. And she said she had to be convinced to focus all of her energies on OWN.
“One of the things [Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav] said to me was. ‘We need you to be all in. It’s all in or nothing. And if you choose not to be all in we will both go our separate ways and wish you well,’” recalled Winfrey. “And I had to think about that.”
“The truth of the matter is,” she added, “I was all in with one foot out the door while finishing the final season [of The Oprah Winfrey Show].”
One of the criticisms of the channel, was that there was not enough of Winfrey on it. In January she'll launch her new OWN interview show, Oprah’s Next Chapter. Asked who her “dream” guests are, Winfrey said O.J. Simpson and Susan Smith, who is serving a life sentence in South Carolina for murdering her two sons. Winfrey had tried to get both Smith and Simpson on her talk show. She said she wants to ask Smith why she fabricated a story that a black man stole her car with her children inside. As for Simpson, said Winfrey: “I have a dream of O.J. Simpson confessing to me. And I am going to make that happen people.”
Winfrey is in the process of relocating from Chicago, where her talk show taped, to Los Angeles where OWN is headquartered. She said much of her staff at Chicago-based Harpo will remain to work on Rosie O’Donnell’s OWN talker – which launches this fall -- as well as repackaging the 25-year library of her syndicated show, which will also begin airing on OWN this fall.
She said she wanted to spend a couple months on a friend’s boat after wrapping her show last month, but Zaslav told her she was needed in Chicago. Indeed, Winfrey now finds herself in the position of having to curry favor with cable operators.
“I have committed everything I have to this cable [venture],” she said. “And I wouldn’t bet against me. I just wouldn’t.”