“I’m not doing the hula yet …but compared to a year ago, it feels like a sigh of relief,” says Winfrey between sips of iced tea on her sprawling estate.
The network debuted two years earlier to a deluge of headlines about weak programming, management shake-ups and its honcho’s dwindling influence.
“Part of my own expectation was, ‘You’ve had 25 years of success; people will leverage that,’ ” confesses the 58-year-old mogul. “But we didn’t account for people not having the channel, and not knowing how to find it, and the cable audience being different from broadcast.”
Today, the network, co-owned by Discovery and Winfrey, is generating fresh ink: 3.5 million viewers tuned in to see her mourn with Whitney Houston’s family as part of her “Oprah’s Next Chapter” interview series. Two-point-five million viewers watched as Rihanna opened up about her relationship with R&B star Chris Brown and 1.6 million watched her debate marriage and faith with Pastor Joel Osteen.
OWN also has signed a lucrative producing deal with Tyler Perry, found buzz in shows like “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” (a reality series about a St. Louis family who runs soul food restaurants) and delivered ten consecutive months of year-over-year growth.
Discovery chief David Zaslav has stated that the feel-good network is poised to become profitable in late 2013, ahead of the five-year horizon. “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels, Winfrey’s friend, offered her a unique perspective.
“He said to me, ‘It’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall and watching it drizzle down,’ ” she recalls of a conversation they had in early 2011. “ ‘Nothing’s going to work until you get there.’”