Oprah Winfrey's Rise on her OWN

It’s a typical Sunday night, and for my roommates and me that means it’s time to unwind and turn on the television. In recent years television programming has taken a turn toward the scandalous, trashy reality series that offer hardly any meaningful lessons. This seemed to be the case until I stumbled across channel 170, a network called OWN. At first, I did not connect the Queen of Television, Oprah Winfrey, with the associated program. During a commercial break, the following quote appeared on the screen, “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. This is your moment. Own it.” I knew then that this was the Oprah Winfrey Network that so many either loved or hated. The quotation left me with the impression that Winfrey’s goal with her OWN network was far beyond her previous endeavors.

Over the past thirty years, Winfrey has provided laughs, tears, and memories to millions of fans. From The Oprah Winfrey Show to O Magazine, her empire has grown to a $2.7 billion net worth, and she has been named one of the most powerful celebrities in the world. That is a far cry from her roots growing up in the poverty stricken town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. But as she once famously said about herself, “I knew at a young age that I was destined for greatness.” Without a doubt, it appears that everything that Oprah Winfrey has touched, including OWN, has turned to gold.

I soon found myself watching OWN as regularly as other shows on networks such as E! and Bravo. Programming ranged and offered viewers a look at various documentaries, specials and reality shows. I tuned in to OWN on a Sunday morning to catch an episode of Super Soul Sunday, a documentary that offers lessons on building spiritual growth. OWN also works to re-define reality TV with shows like Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s, which follows a family running a restaurant and facing life’s challenges on a daily basis. It is a nice diversion from other reality shows where the plot usually consists of drinking and going out on a daily basis. Seeing various episodes of Sweetie Pie’s left me with the question: why can’t more television shows be like this? With the growing popularity of reality shows such as Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives, and The Bachelor, OWN is a refreshing step in the right direction for the future of television and its viewers.

A review by The Huffington Post noted the positive nature of the network, declaring, "Nowhere in that opening gush of feel-good highlight reels, self-improvement plans, spiritual quests, aha! moments, celebrity master classes, and people finding their truths and living their own best lives was there a snicker of malice or a hint of raillery.” The formation of the network derived from Winfrey’s main purpose is to feature ‘mindful’ programming. According to Winfrey, “People deserve to have value-centered, inspirational programming,” and that is exactly what she has created. Another review from The New York Times noted, “OWN is a place where cynicism takes a holiday and mockery hasn’t yet been invented...OWN isn’t for everyone but it lives up to the Oprah Winfrey ethos - a ‘meaningful, mindful’ cable network that seeks its own truth and tries to be its own best self.”

Not everyone in America prefers mindful to mindless television programming and many critics do not share the love and support of OWN. In fact, many feel that Winfrey is narcissistic and ultimately reverts attention back to herself in the end. Critics have said that her goals were unrealistic coming from the enormous success of The Oprah Winfrey Show and cannot be replicated with the network. Jennifer Mabry from The Root reviewed the network, stating that OWN “seems content to follow the new television model of programming that exploded in the wake of the 2008 Hollywood writers' strike: Find anyone with a heartbeat and a willingness to have cameras follow them during their ordinary day-to-day life, and voilĂ  -- we've got ourselves a TV show!" Many have also criticized her move to a cable network where viewers have difficulty finding the station. Despite the criticism, the positive nature OWN presents is something we could all use.

Rather than focusing on the past and recent flops such as the cancellation of The Rosie Show, Winfrey continues to fight back. The success of Oprah’s Next Chapter and other shows with her name and stamp of approval continue to grow. With celebrity guests and controversial interviews, ratings continue to rise. Executives working at the network in Chicago are optimistic for the future, as the reputation and work ethic of Oprah Winfrey set the bar for standards. The Los Angeles Times projected that ratings will increase in the next year, “Cable networks have two revenue streams - advertising dollars and subscriber fees. Starting next year, many cable and satellite distributors will begin paying to carry OWN, at an initial cost of about 20 cents per subscriber per month. That is on par with Bravo and more than HGTV, Oxygen and WE, all channels that are chasing female viewers.”

Making its grand debut on January 1, 2011, into 77 million homes across America, OWN replaced the Discovery Health Channel. Produced by Harpo Productions, OWN’s primary target market is women. Among the feature shows on the network, three of the highest rated include Oprah’s Next Chapter, Oprah’s Masterclass, and Oprah’s Lifeclass. In Next Chapter, Winfrey and her team can be seen traveling across the world offering a rare glimpse into the lives of some of the most private celebrities. The two hour program airing Sunday nights at 9/8c, has already featured guests like Steven Tyler, Lady Gaga, Joel Osteen, Paula Deen, and most recently, Whitney Houston’s family. Each interview is conducted in a unique conversational style that only Oprah Winfrey can deliver. During the season premiere of Next Chapter, Winfrey traveled to Steven Tyler’s home in Sunapee, New Hampshire, to get an inside and candid look at his life. Throughout the conversation, she posed the statement, “I’m surprised you’re still alive. Who has taken more drugs, has lived outside of yourself more than you? It’s a wonder that you’re still alive.” This is just one example of her candid demeanor in which no question or topic is off limits.

Oprah’s Masterclass opens each episode with the following quote, “Everybody has a story, and there’s something to be learned from every experience.” The show offers a range of inspirational stories from actors, musicians, athletes and philanthropists. Each episode is broken down into segments where major turning points in a celebrity’s life are discussed. In an episode featuring Goldie Hawn, she revealed some of her mistakes and accomplishments over her forty year career. The message of holding on to one’s integrity stood out in a world where this is lacking.

“Stand up if you want a stronger life,” Winfrey proclaims to an audience of thousands on Oprah’s Lifeclass. Streaming live from venues across America on OWN and online, Winfrey shares her knowledge and insight with viewers. Her most recent seminar dealt with issues such as letting go of anger and taking control of one’s life. The sense of community is what separates Lifeclass from other programs, as viewers are included in episodes. This aspect stems from The Oprah Winfrey Show, where viewers were encouraged to participate as guests. With Lifeclass, Winfrey encourages viewers to submit videos and answers to her questions such as “How can you begin giving more of your time to what you were really meant to do with your life?” The network appears to grow with viewer involvement daily, as social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter boasts a following of over one million people.

Recently, Winfrey has addressed the issues and mistakes she has made, even confessing that she started running the network too soon. Indeed, she may be facing one of the biggest challenges of her career with OWN, but it is a valuable and worthwhile effort. By surrounding herself with a team of dedicated workers who want to promote the same message, failure is proven not to be an option. And with viewers like myself tuning in to watch, what lies ahead for Oprah may be unknown but ultimately successful.