January 1, 2011, was special for more than simply signaling the start of a new year. It also marked the launch of OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, which replaced the Discovery Health channel. Last year Oprah announced this would mark the final season of her syndicated Oprah talk show. Her fans’ sadness quickly morphed into elation, however, when she announced she was developing an entire cable network offering programming that would be both “entertaining and inspiring.” OWN immediately showed promise straight out of the gate. It was the third most-watched cable network among women age 25-54 on its launch day, and over one million viewers tuned in. That is quite a contrast to Discovery Health’s 210,000 viewers one year ago on that same day.
The highest-rated show of OWN’s debut was the primetime premiere of the spotlight series, Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, which takes cameras behind the scenes throughout this final season of Oprah. Since then, viewers have flocked to other series like Oprah Presents: Master Class which showcases famous people, such as Maya Angelou and Condoleezza Rice, sharing various lessons they have learned on life’s journey. Our America with Lisa Ling gives its viewers deeper insight into often provocative and polarizing topics such as transgender issues, faith healers, and sex offenders.
Oprah’s famous best friend Gayle also has a morning program on OWN, The Gayle King Show, essentially a simulcast of her satellite radio show (on Oprah’s radio channel) on which she discusses various topics in the news, as well as interviewing celebrities. OWN also offers up reruns of Dr. Phil. Other programming includes Breaking Down the Bars, a reality show that follows the lives and transformations of several women recently incarcerated in an Indiana correctional facility. Oprah promises that more programming will be rolled out this year, including a documentary series hosted by former television talk show host, Rosie O’Donnell, and tentatively entitled OWN Documentary Film Club. Set to debut in May, the series will open with the film Becoming Chaz and will continue to present documentaries that are meant to inspire deeper conversations following their premiere. O’Donnell will moderate one-hour discussions after the films air.
OWN's CEO, former MTV president Christina Norman, has stated in the press that Oprah’s vision for her network is that it be about “helping people live their best lives, giving them the tools to live their best lives, and bringing some light into their lives.” This is the same vision Oprah developed for her syndicated talk show several years after its debut on television. Dissatisfied with the direction her show was taking, Oprah sought to differentiate it from other talk shows of the time which featured sensationalistic topics and frequently aired guests brawling, cursing, and yelling onstage. Virtually everything Oprah has touched has turned to gold, and so far it seems OWN will be no exception. With a wide variety of programming rolling out over the year ahead (and with the end of her talk show on the horizon), OWN is sure to attract even more viewers curious as to what more Oprah could possibly have to offer.