Oprah Winfrey talked extensively about the problems at her struggling OWN network during her interview on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, turning the whole thing into sort of a semi-therapy session/morale-booster — albeit one with a lot of name-dropping.
Also along for the ride were co-hosts Charlie Rose and Gayle King, also known as Oprah’s BFF. But Gayle steered clear of reminding viewers of her Oprah connection. As Oprah kicked off the interview by gushing about excited she was about Gayle’s new job, Gayle quickly tried to change the subject to Oprah. Naturally, that was fine with Oprah.
Rose dominated most of the questions for this interview, which went up against Katie Couric’s return to morning TV over on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the return of a “legend” to NBC’s “Today” show. Anyway, Rose’s queries mostly consisted of the following: What in the world is going on with OWN network?
And oh, did Oprah tell him. There were lots of issues to choose from, from the low ratings at the fledgling network (a co-venture between Oprah and Silver Spring-based Discovery Communcations) to the decision to recently fire 30 staffers to cut costs. In fact, creating a network was so difficult that, Oprah said, “Had I known that it was this difficult, I might have done something else.”
“Really?” Rose seemed shocked. “If you knew it was going to be this difficult, you might have not done it?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Oprah assured him.
Gayle cut in: “But you didn’t think it was going to be easy?”
“I didn’t think – well, would you let me answer?” Oprah said faux-exasperatedly to her BFF. “I didn’t think it was going to be easy…but if I knew then what I knew now, I might have made some different choices,” she clarified.
In fact, Oprah added, if she were writing a book about the experience, she would call it “101 Mistakes.”
“Give us the top five,” Rose offered.
Oprah was only able to list one, because her explanation ran into the first commercial break. But she explained that launching the Los Angeles-based channel in January 2011 before it was truly ready — and before she even wrapped up her syndicated talk show in Chicago — was the major error.
Comparing it to getting married before you’re ready (but having already sent out the invitations, and having to soldier on), and how hard it was to launch a network and lay off 30 people, Oprah pondered the words of wisdom from “Saturday Night Live” exec producer Lorne Michaels, whom she brought up somewhat randomly. Michaels apparently told her a t one point, “You have no idea what you’ve stepped yourself into,” and she as going to have a lot of schadenfreude from people who didn’t want her to succeed.
However, she used the wisdom of another famous friend, producer Steven Spielberg, to not take all the negativity to heart. As Rose asked what it was like reading such negative press reports after all the years of seemingly doing no wrong on her talk show, Oprah said Spielberg taught her a valuable lesson when she was working with him filming “The Color Purple.”
Oprah said Spielberg told her, “If you believe all the good stuff, then you have to believe when people write things that are unflattering.”
“I’ve lived in this glow for the past 10 years,” Oprah admitted, though she reiterated that her climb up the talk show host ladder also wasn’t simple.
To illustrate this point, when Rose and Gayle had to cut her off to take a commercial break, the show returned with a clip from an archive Oprah interview when her talk show was still getting started. A young Oprah is seen saying to Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” that she wouldn’t mind too terribly if her show didn’t succeed, but “It would be wonderful to be acclaimed as this talk show host who’s made it.”
Oprah looked stunned to see this footage. “Who’s ‘made it’!” she mouthed in disbelief at her old self as the clip played.
Comparing that to OWN’s struggles, Oprah told Rose, Gayle and co-anchor Erica Hill (who joined the second part of the interview) that she wanted to create a network to inspire people’s lives. And if viewers didn’t want that, she would move on to something else. “I will always be okay, because I live in the center of myself,” she informed the trio of hosts, in case they weren’t aware.
In addition to being in New York to tape an episode of her “Lifeclass” series for OWN, Oprah is also there for Discovery’s upfront presentation on Thursday. She made sure to mention that even though the press is wondering whether Discovery Communications will stand by her, she says the Discovery team has been “stellar.” And, Oprah hammered home the point that people say it takes three to five years to get a network right.
After all, Oprah sweetly pointed out, hasn’t “CBS This Morning” had its share of changes and struggles?
“Everything takes its time…Even for this particular show. We all know history of this show,” she said, referring to the many, many host changes on the CBS morning news program.
But, she added, looking at her BFF Gayle across the table, “I think they finally got it right.”