“What’s Your Next Chapter?” That’s the cover line on the January 2011 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, which features Lady O in a director’s chair with the letters O-W-N on the back.
In case you haven’t heard, Oprah Winfrey is definitely entering into the next chapter. On January 1st,¬†the media dynamo launched OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network,¬†a cable channel that pushes her “Live Your Best Life” motto 24-7. The decision to start the network came after a conversation¬†Oprah had with David¬†Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Communications, in 2007, in which he suggested the idea. “I got up from the meeting and said, ‘David, come with me. I want to show you something,'” Winfrey remembers. What she had to show him was a page from her journal, dated May 24, 1992, where she had written that she wanted to create her own network, and that, at the time, she told her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, that, “I think it should be called OWN.”¬†How does she define the¬†culmination of that meeting with Zaslav and the clairvoyant journal entry? “Absolute divine order.”
Now it’s up to Oprah and her team to deliver the goods. On the¬†premiere show,¬†she stood in all white, on a cozy new set, outlining all of the¬†programs¬†that she’s “so excited” to share with you: behind-the-scenes of the final season of the Oprah Winfrey Show,¬†on the road with¬†Winona and Naomi Judd, and Master Class with some of her favorites like¬†Jay-Z and Diane Sawyer.
Oprah said the new network and its reality shows are¬†all about¬†“showing humanity.”¬†It’s your network, after all, one that she wants you to feel ownership of (although you’re not splitting¬†it 50-50 as she is with Discovery).¬†But does America really want “humanity,” or do too many of us crave those humiliating moments that make reality¬†TV¬†irresistible‚ÄĒthe cat-fighting caricatures, the name-calling, the who’s gay and who’s dating whom? Oprah Winfrey has prided herself on offering programming that is uplifting, positive, other. Are we ready?
In 1992, Bill Cosby made a run for NBC and was prepared to pay General Electric a reported $4 billion for the network and said that he was “interested in making quality television shows and that he would surround himself with ‘good people’ to handle all the details of running a network,” reported the New York Times. The deal never went through. In 1998, Oprah invested with a group of others in the Oxygen Network, her first foray into broadcast ownership, a decision she now views as a wrong move, but one that taught her plenty. “What I learned from that experience is: Put your name on nothing that you can not control. Because you need to maintain your voice in all things… The mistake I made with Oxygen was that, for me, it was an ego move,” she said in O Magazine.
Ego move or power move, Oprah Winfrey has us all watching once again. What does her move mean for African-Americans? For women in media? For us all?¬†Time, and ratings, will tell.
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