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Re-inventing OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network


What do champions do when they discover that things are not going as planned or hoped? They regroup and come out fighting. Oprah Winfrey is just that kind of champion.

Winfrey has acknowledged that launching her own cable channel has been more difficult than she expected. And she plans to devote herself to overhauling OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, and spending more time in Los Angeles where the headquarters of OWN is located.

Since its launch, OWN has been averaging fewer than 300,000 viewers in prime time, according to the Nielsen Co. It’s now reported that ratings are just a third of those expected by advertisers, averaging a 0.1 rating on an all-day basis rather than the anticipated 0.3 rating.

Sagging ratings prompted Winfrey and Discovery to oust the channel’s chief executive, Christina Norman, who is Black, and the former president of MTV. Norman spent 17 years at MTV, climbing from a freelance production manager to president of MTV.

In a recent interview with Discovery Channel’s Investigation network host Paula Zahn at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. convention in Chicago, Winfrey said, “The vacation that I thought that I was going to have is over. I need to be there. I need to be engaged and involved.”

Oprah told Zahn, that she didn’t have “one single space of energy left” to devote to the startup while she was taping the final season of her talk show. She was consumed with giving her program the sendoff that she felt it deserved. And what a sendoff it was! The final episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in late May drew 16.4 million viewers.

“If I were to do it over again, I’d probably do it differently,” Winfrey said of OWN’s launch.

Winfrey explained when she told viewers she had a new cable channel, people showed up with high expectations–not expecting to see a work in progress. But she said she was determined to make it work. “I have committed everything I have to this cable venture,” Winfrey said. “I wouldn’t bet against me.”

Experts say it takes a cable station some five years to get up and running profitably, but Winfrey claims OWN will do it in three years.

Winfrey also told Zahn in the interview, “I have a dream of O.J. Simpson confessing to me.” But she said she would not accept just any interview. Before she would agree to a sit-down, Winfrey said, the former football great would have to be ready to confess to killing his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

Zahn asked Winfrey why she thought that Simpson would agree to the interview and its terms, given that Simpson was found not guilty by a jury in the 1994 of the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman.

Winfrey cited a photo she saw recently of a little Oprah, growing up in poverty in Mississippi. “The fact that that baby girl from a shotgun house in Mississippi can get to the OWN network means that the O.J. Simpson interview is possible,” she responded.

Oprah Winfrey is one determined woman; her cable channel will prevail, even without the Simpson confession.

Gail can be reached at