Oprah Winfrey acknowledges her OWN mistakes
"Had I known it was this difficult, I might have done something else," Winfrey said during an appearance on "CBS This Morning" with Charlie Rose and Gayle King, who is Winfrey's best friend.
"I didn't think it would be easy, but if I knew then what I know now, I might have made some different choices," Winfrey said. "If I were writing a book about it, I could call it '101 Mistakes.' "
Rose asked Winfrey to name five miscalculations. The top mistake, Winfrey said, was that OWN launched in Los Angeles in January 2011, well before the network was ready. At the time, she was consumed with wrapping up her hugely successful syndicated talk show in Chicago, which taped its finale last May. Winfrey said she advocated for a small launch of the channel, without much press or promotion, but soon the publicity machine had kicked in and the expectations for the channel soared to lofty levels.
Discovery Communications Inc., which owns 50% of OWN, has spent more than $312 million to get the struggling channel off the ground. The channel has been averaging fewer than 300,000 people in prime-time, according to ratings agency Nielsen.
"It was like having the wedding before you were ready, and walking down the aisle saying, oooh, should we really be doing this?" Winfrey said.
"But the invitations were out," chimed in King, who ditched her daytime talk show on OWN last year for the much bigger platform of CBS News. (Winfrey later in the interview said she was thrilled that King, who has been her friend for more than 25 years, was given the opportunity at CBS).
Winfrey said it was "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels who told her that she "had no idea" what she was getting into, and that building a new channel would be difficult. Some people would be rooting for her to fail.
For the first time in many years, the press surrounding Winfrey has been decidedly negative. Co-host Rose said that was a departure from previous press coverage: "You've been so loved, such an icon, you could do no wrong."
There have been days, Winfrey conceded, that she was ready to throw in the towel. She said she would have been happy to sit under a tree with her beloved dogs and read a book. Those days were more frequent, she said, particularly in the last week as the bad press mounted. But Winfrey said that she is more encouraged by OWN's prospects and direction than she ever has been before.
Television's former daytime queen was in New York to tape a live episode of "Oprah"s Lifeclass: The Tour" at Radio City Music Hall and, later in the week, for advertiser presentations. Unlike four years ago, Winfrey said doesn't expect to campaign heavily for the reelection of President Obama. Instead, she will be busy "trying to fix a network."
"I'm a very driven person," Winfrey said. "I believe that I am here to fulfill a calling. That, because I am a female, who is African American, who has been so blessed in the world, there is never going to be a time to quit. I will die in the midst of doing what I love to do — that is, using my voice and using my life to try to inspire other people to live the best in theirs."
— Meg James
Photo: Oprah Winfrey at a Discovery Channel gathering in 2011. Credit: AP Photo/OWN, George Burns