Oprah Considers Her New Network

It was New Year’s Day, when she was watching the new network that bore her name that it struck her.

“I fully started to grasp what it means to have a network,” Oprah Winfrey says. “I had a moment thinking about this journey and not just in terms of this past couple of years.”

Instead she was thinking back to her humble beginnings, “thinking about this journey to get here in terms of the whole of my life and how absolutely extraordinary it is.”

Winfrey, spinning back to her beginnings before a room of silent reporters at the TV Critics Association press association, held the attention of the room the way few others had.

Her appearance, the most successful woman in entertainment, was nearly regal. No one dare interrupt her (and that pages withheld microphones until the she deigned to move to a new question ensured nobody did). Her appearance at her own party (which was also her OWN party, OWN being the Oprah Winfrey Network) saw her so mobbed by reporters she only got a few feet inside the door before she turned and left by golf cart.

No conference at press tour was remembered to last longer;  yet seldom was there one with so few questions (four). And Oprah’s session produced an answer to one question (as a child, what were your dreams?) that was epic sized, long enough for its own special.

Someone timed it at 18 minutes, 12 seconds, by far a press tour record. And yet, as she spoke, it was as if she were a religious figure and there were no sounds but that of fingertips on laptop keys (some of them twittering madly after a while about the immense #oprahfilibuster).

Still, few could deny her achievement as a girl born in poverty without a TV to a grown woman with the world at her feet, through TV.

“That I can sit in this place with my name on a network, coming from a little town in Mississippi that people still can’t pronounce, the name of Kosciusko, and growing up without a television and begging my grandmother for a television,” she said. “That’s what I thought of when I saw those first few moments of myself” introducing the new network on New Year’s Day.

“I am standing there, looking at myself, doing the introduction to OWN. And I thought about standing on that red dirt road and having gone downtown in Attala County, Mississippi, Kosciusko, watching television from a Sears
& Roebuck store and asking my grandmother, ‘Could we please get a TV?’ And she said no because it was the devil’s work.

“Now being able to have my name on a channel, it’s extraordinary and has been even for me in the process of working on it and holding to the vision of what I believed could be true, a new kind of television where people would respond to the idea of something meaningful and positive in their lives, not just feeding them sweetness, but feeding them something that could be nurturing for their spirit, for their soul, for their mind, mind food. So that’s where I am in this process.”

The spiritualism that informs it makes every aspect of it exciting to her, as when her friend Gayle King (who gets her own talk show on it) called hours after the launch expressing some surprise that it had commercials.

“She goes, ‘It’s not like I didn’t think you were going to have commercials, but you have commercials just like a real network!’ And I said, ‘I’m thinking the same thing. I didn’t know I love Febreze so much.

And so I’ve never loved commercials more in my life than now. I look at every commercial and go, ‘Thank you, Chevrolet.’ ‘Thanks, Nissan.’”

And people were watching, OWN  CEO Christina Norman said. “Seven point six million people watched us on Saturday, and 13 million people checked out OWN between Saturday and Monday,” Norman said. “They sampled the originals, and they liked them.”

“I’m grateful that people came,” Winfrey says. “And what it shows is that we can get people to watch us, and as we continue to build the channel and the message.”

And what is that message?

“Here is a place where you can come, and you can leave this television on in your house, in your kitchen, in your bathroom, all day long, and there’s not going to be one thing that causes you not to sleep at night,” Winfrey says.

“The intention of this channel is to bring good energy; no matter what the programming is, to bring good energy, to bring your best self, to bring your best programming, to bring your best shows. And so that’s how we operate.”

As Norman puts it, OWN is a network “that entertains
but also helps people live their best lives, be
 present, and realize their full potential.”

Most TV doesn’t send out that kind of energy, Winfrey says.

“I am very much aware of the energy that the
television is transmitting all of the time. That’s
why I don’t allow — up until now, I have never
 allowed it on in my house, unless there was something 
specific that I wanted to see, because I don’t want 
all that energy coming into my space.”

Winfrey realizes she has a different approach, but she can afford it.

“I know that most television programmers do not start the meeting by ‘How is this going to serve the viewer? How is this going to serve them? If it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for me.’

“Obviously, ratings are important. Numbers are important. They’re not as important to me right now as they might be to you, and I know, you know, that’s what people like to write about. ‘Well, the number’s here and then they dropped off.’ I’m not even concerned about that. What I’m concerned about is could we get people to the channel?

“If we continue to build the channel with programming that is meaningful to our viewers, we listen to them, we respond to what they like and what they don’t like. It doesn’t mean all the shows are going to make it. There are a few shows that even if they don’t respond, I’m keeping on anyway because I can.

Winfrey knows that if she likes them, “in time it will grow on them.”

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