A Humbled Oprah on Her Network's Turnaround

 Joe Pugliese

This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

“I’m not doing the hula yet …but compared to a year ago, it feels like a sigh of relief,” says Winfrey between sips of iced tea on her sprawling estate. She’s referring to the recent surge in relevance (and ratings) of her OWN cable network, which debuted two years earlier to a deluge of headlines about weak programming, management shake-ups and its honcho’s dwindling influence.

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“Part of my own expectation was, ‘You’ve had 25 years of success; people will leverage that,’ ” confesses the 58-year-old mogul. “But we didn’t account for people not having the channel, and not knowing how to find it, and the cable audience being different from broadcast.”

Today, the network, co-owned by Discovery and Winfrey, is generating fresh ink: 3.5 million viewers tuned in to see her mourn with Whitney Houston’s family as part of her Oprah’s Next Chapter interview series; 2.5 million watched as Rihanna opened up about her relationship with R&B star Chris Brown; and 1.6 million watched her debate marriage and faith with Pastor Joel Osteen.

OWN also has signed a lucrative producing deal with Tyler Perry, found buzz in shows like Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s (a reality series about a St. Louis family who runs soul food restaurants) and delivered 10 consecutive months of year-over-year growth.

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Discovery chief David Zaslav has stated that the feel-good network is poised to become profitable in late 2013, ahead of the five-year horizon Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels, a friend, told Winfrey to expect.

“He said to me, ‘It’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall and watching it drizzle down,’ ” she recalls of a conversation they had in early 2011. “ ‘Nothing’s going to work until you get there.’ ”

At last, it looks like Winfrey’s on her way to arriving. Again.

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