Oprah on Changing Formula for OWN Network: ‘I Needed More Humor’

Oprah’s decision to launch the Oprah Winfrey Network  is starting to payoff. The media mogul was off to a rough start since launching in 2008 ,with a reported loss of $330 million last year. But Oprah was determined to press on. Her persistence and perhaps flexibility paid off. In a recent interview with New York Magazine, “The Butler” actress admitted that she had to infuse some humor into her programming. By late summer, OWN was profitable.

Check out excerpts from the interview below:

On making the shift in her programming

I have a tendency to look at everything from the point of view of: What is going to be meaningful, and uplift people? That can become too stoic and too serious—which is the same issue I suffered with at the magazine in the beginning. It needed more humor. So we [began] looking for lighter fare. Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s works. Iyanla: Fix My Life was also a turning point. Having programming that was in alignment with the vision but also left the space to widen the lane for the vision. If it were up to me, I’d be doing [Winfrey’s Sunday talk show] Super Soul Sunday conversations all the time.

On if there is a line that is drawn or things that she will not put on OWN

I’m interested in doing no harm. Before, it was always, I’ve got to uplift as well as entertain. And now I can look at a thing and say, “What harm does it do?” And harm is not just violence and calling people b***hes. It’s the tone of things. The role that I see myself serving is to put a mirror up to people’s lives by allowing them to see, through the storytelling that we do, their lives through other people. You can see somebody’s sorrows, but also their triumphs, and be lifted by that. You have to be responsible for the energy you’re putting out into the world. There are a lot of people, particularly in this business, who don’t give two poops about it. I’ve sat at those mogul jamborees—all the big muckety-mucks in a room, the bastions of media. And I’ve asked the question, “Where is your moral compass?” Not a lot of people are thinking about that, but I feel a responsibility to it. To whom much is given, much is expected.

On if she’s glad she’s launched the OWN Network despite the pitfalls

Absolutely. There’s a wonderful spiritual, and also a book that Maya Angelou wrote, called “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.” If I had it to do over, I would just do things differently. I would definitely have waited until the Oprah show was over, instead of trying to do it all at the same time. So do I have regrets about that? Not deep ones. I learned so much about myself, and sticking with it, and not giving up. I learned so much about putting your ego aside, and leaving room for other opportunities and other people’s insights. For that reason, I wouldn’t take nothing for the journey.

On if it’s important for her to evolve the network so that it can exist beyond “Oprah” in the next 50 years

Yeah, 100 percent. Because that’s what true leadership is—to be able to put whatever you’re doing, whether it’s your cupcake company or a network—in a position that it can sustain itself without you having to be the prominent force every day. You want to create an opportunity for other people. I love being behind the scenes and creating opportunities for other people to shine.




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