Sun, Dec 19, 2010 - Page 11 News List

A network of her OWN: Oprah Winfrey is ready for cable TV

By Frazier Moore  /  AP, NEW YORK

As her many fans know, Oprah Winfrey champions a few golden rules: Take charge of your life ... look beyond yourself to learn how others took charge ... always remember if you can dream it, you can do it.

Another Oprah principle the wise know to heed: Never bet against her.

That’s a rule worth keeping in mind especially now, as the long-awaited OWN, Oprah Winfrey Network, gears up for its premiere on New Year’s Day.

The bold ambition of this venture would spark doubts if anybody else’s name were attached. Consider: A cable network started from scratch (actually, repurposed from Discovery Health, whose channel it will claim) and all-dependent on just one person’s identity, vision and marquee power.

The difference here is that person is Winfrey, a cultural force in the US and perhaps unrivaled in the world. Now, as she moves through the final months of her daytime syndicated talk show, which will end in September after 25 years, OWN is poised to become Winfrey’s new TV home base.

Instead of a daily hour boasting Winfrey’s on-air presence as host, OWN will be a round-the-clock environment in which, her network vows, she will often be seen but, what is more important, always be felt. She will be the network’s spiritual curator, maintaining a constant presence, even from off-camera, as she offers a slate of programs all guaranteed to meet her “Live Your Best Life” mandate.

It is a cable-network startup packed with as-yet-unproven shows. But these shows, 600 hours of original programing airing next year, are endorsed by TV’s most trusted figure. The Oprah Winfrey Show will soon end, but, according to Winfrey, it is serving as a prism for the spectrum of programs OWN means to air.

“I want to take what I’ve established in daytime, inspiring people and giving them hope, and some cars, and build on that, 24-7, OWN-style,” Winfrey told advertisers at a gathering last spring.

“Oprah is smarter than all of us and she has an enormous following based on absolute trust,” says Bob Garfield, co-host of National Public Radio’s On the Media.

Her influence as a newsmaker and taste-maker has always been greater than the audience head count for her show (which is seen by nearly 7 million viewers, a hefty number though down from 12 million at its peak). What happens on her show helps drive the national conversation far beyond the bounds of the show’s viewership.

Now, as her syndicated show is nearing its conclusion, you might wonder whether Oprah’s impact will be diminished without that concentrated five-hours-weekly firepower. Or maybe she will loom even larger, if possible, thanks to her network’s constant availability.

OWN will not only be a logical extension of who Oprah is, but also a logical extension of her daily show, says Christina Norman, the network’s CEO.

“Watch Oprah for one week and you see the many different kinds of topics she covers,” Norman says. “When you pull back, you see that those are really the tenets of what this network can be.”

Norman mentions interviews with celebrity guests, stories of people who transform themselves for the better and tips on how to choose jeans that flatter your body, all fair game for OWN programing.

And, yes, Winfrey will be logging face time. She hosts Master Class, which spotlights prominent people Winfrey has chosen to be profiled. She will be up-close-and-personal in Behind the Scenes: The Oprah Show Final Season, a 25-episode reality series that gives viewers an intimate look at The Oprah Winfrey Show as it draws to a close. And she will tape 70 segments of Oprah’s Next Chapter, which, premiering next fall, will find her striking out to do anything, go anywhere, with anyone she feels like.

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