The queen of daytime TV is publically wondering if kicking off OWN while still on the air with the final (and busy) season of The Oprah Winfrey Show was the right strategic move.
"I’ve thought maybe it would have been better to wait until this completely ended and then literally use [Oprah] as a launchpad. If I had it to do differently and had thought of that option, I might have considered that a priority. But I don’t spend a lot of time in the regret mode," she says.
She’s gaining some comfort from another TV veteran as she prepares to leave the comfort of her daytime perch.
Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels is giving Winfrey “network advice" as she heads out, at last, on her OWN.
"He said it’s going to take three years, not two. And I am going to have to pay my dues and will be in the midst of a learning curve. And when I think I’ve learned as much as I need to know, I’ll be hit with something else. Don’t judge OWN until after three years. So that’s exactly what I have thought in my own mind."
Three years in today’s media environment is like ten in the recent past, as audiences continue to fragment across a vast landscape of multiple digital devices that deliver the goods precisely when and how they want it.
Turns out no one, not even the queen, is invulnerable to the elephant in the mix: it’s a very different beast to run a network than it is to be a star on your own, one-hour daily show – even if it’s lasted 25 years.
Since its January launch, OWN has been plagued by low ratings and budget overruns. Since the launch hoopla, which encouraged curious viewers to tune-in at the beginning, OWN's ratings are proving just slightly higher than the network it replaced, Discovery Health, while programming costs are significantly higher.
Changing executives sometimes helps, so former MTV Networks executive Christina Norman recently stepped down as CEO of OWN, and Peter Liguori, COO of Discovery Communications — which co-owns OWN with Winfrey — will serve as interim head.
"With the final taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show only a few weeks away, I will soon be able to devote my full energies to OWN," said Winfrey in a statement. "This is a natural point of transition, and I am confident that Peter, as an integral part of the launch of OWN, will be a terrific partner for me going forward."
OWN's January launch was delayed twice in executive shuffles that upped the launch budget from $100 million to $189 million, and Discovery Communications CFO Brad Singer said another $50 million was expected to be spent.
As The Oprah Winfrey Show winds down after 4,500 episodes and more than 28,000 guests, Winfrey is (naturally) using it to promote OWN.
Today, with ten episodes left, Winfrey is interviewing Sarah Ferguson, star of Finding Sarah, a six-part OWN docu-series that launches June 12. On Monday, Winfrey interviewed Chaz Bono, touting Becoming Chaz, a docu that aired on OWN last night.
And last week, songbird Shania Twain was a guest to plug her OWN series, Why Not? With Shania Twain — which debuted on Sunday night to healthy numbers. Twain's premiere marked the highest-rated premiere to date outside of launch weekend for OWN, and ranked #3 among ad-supported cable networks in the time period.
Winfrey, meanwhile, is looking ahead. In January, projects helmed by A-list stars including Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn will hit the air, while Rosie O'Donnell will launch a talk show that will be cross-promoted and aired on Sirius XM’s Rosie Radio.
It’s a transformative media moment. Beloved for twenty-five years as the diva of daytime TV, Oprah is a force majeure, an unstoppable personality whose magnetism and reach knew no bounds – until, perhaps, now.
"I feel like I have not begun to give anything to OWN," she has said. "Doing this right and ending [her daytime talk show] is a full-time job…After the end of Oprah I can start to give my attention to OWN that it deserves. Its going to improve exponentially with the amount of time and service I can give to it."
As her final show looms on May 25 — with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith as the last guests on her Tom Cruise couch of fame — for the first time in 25 years Winfrey will no longer be a fixture on daytime television.
Now that she'll have time to focus, can she conquer 24/7 cable TV on her OWN? One worrying sign: she's talking about having the freedom to focus on ... acting.