Entertainment

Oprah Winfrey Network launches Jan. 1

It happened in its OWN time.

After three years of planning, delays and management misfires, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network finally arrives Saturday, the biggest launch of a cable channel in more than a decade.

Wall Street and the television industry are eager to see whether the celebrity who can unleash consumer trends can leverage the success of her 25-year run in daytime television into a 24-hour cable channel. The new channel is a mix of programming that encourages people to "live their best lives" with the empowerment message that is the Oprah Winfrey brand.

In the Wichita area, the show will be carried on Channel 51 for customers of Cox Communications.

OWN will also be competing against several other entrenched cable networks aimed at the same female audience. Still, backers believe, Winfrey's emphasis on positive and optimistic programming is unique among cable networks that appeal to women. Moreover, when it comes to brand awareness, it doesn't get more prominent than Winfrey, whose daily talk show is watched by 7 million viewers.

"There is no network that has ever launched in 80 million homes and with the advantage of the best brand in media, which is Oprah, and a website, which is the No. 2 or No. 3 website for women," said David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery Communications, which owns 50 percent of OWN.

"It will be a historic launch, in terms of the reach and power," he said.

For now, however, and with only a week to go before launch, Winfrey is still immersed in her longtime Chicago-based syndicated talk show. She will tape her last episode in May — five months after OWN premieres — for episodes that will run through Sept. 9, when the program takes its final bow.

Last week, instead of being holed up at OWN's headquarters on the Miracle Mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, prepping for the launch, Winfrey was traveling with 302 fans in Australia and shooting upcoming episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Indeed, Winfrey's reluctance to loosen her grip on her daytime show has been a source of frustration for Discovery, which so far has spent $110 million out of a budgeted $189 million on start-up costs. Even as recently as 18 months ago — long after plans for OWN had been announced — Winfrey was undecided about whether she would end her daytime show to concentrate on the cable channel.

Her program, Winfrey said in a telephone interview, remains her "full-time job" while it is in production.

"I've built (OWN) with only 10 percent of my time, but I have surrounded myself with good people," Winfrey said. "And when I am able to focus my full gaze on it, the network is only going to get better."

Winfrey and her partners recognize that, unlike a new movie or TV show that must produce immediate results, it probably will take several years for OWN to establish itself. They say they are prepared to stick it out.

"A lot of the programming will resonate, some of it won't," Zaslav said. "We recognize it's going to take a while to find a voice. But we have an advantage because we know what the voice is going to be."

Those hoping to see Winfrey reprise her signature daily show will be disappointed.

Although Winfrey will be part of the promotional on-air blitz and host a few programs, the first month will rely heavily on TV celebrities that her production company has groomed — including relationship expert Phil McGraw and surgeon Mehmet Oz. Winfrey's friend Gayle King will host a daily talk show, and therapist Laura Berman will give sex advice.

OWN is also jumping on the country's obsession with talent shows: Ten people will compete for the chance to have their own show on "Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star: Your OWN Show."

Winfrey will appear in "Behind the Scenes: The Oprah Show Final Season" and "Oprah Presents Master Class," in which she interviews such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Diane Sawyer, Simon Cowell, Jay-Z and Condoleezza Rice.

  Comments