When Oprah Winfrey enters a room full of television critics at the TCA Winter Press Tour, she’s ready to face the music. “It’s like being thrown to the wolves. Good lord I’m scared,” she laughs.
She’s in the house to talk about her latest and greatest endeavor, the Oprah Winfrey Network. It’s no small task. “This has been a revelatory week for me. We’ve worked very hard to make this network what it is right now. It was not actually until we were on the air that I fully started to grasp what it means to have a network where you are the OW of the OWN,” she says.
“I had a moment, thinking about this journey, and not just in terms of this past couple of years to get here… but thinking about this journey in terms of the whole of my life, and how absolutely extraordinary it is when you tell your story or critique your story, how absolutely extraordinary it is that I can sit in this place with my name on a network coming from a little town in Mississippi and growing up without a television, begging my grandmother for a television. That’s what I thought those first few minutes, standing there looking at myself doing the introduction to OWN, I thought about myself on a red dirt road… asking my grandmother if we could get a TV. She said no, because it was the devil’s work.”
Her answers to our questions tend to be extremely long, wordy, and laden with little nuggets of wisdom. Talking to her about OWN feels less like a press conference and interview, and more like a master class in how to be as awesome as Oprah.
She frequently asks her talk show guests whether they love themselves, but when the question is turned on her, she’s hesitant to answer. “I am not in love with myself. I’m not in love with myself. I can just see that in print and I cringe. ‘Oprah fell in love with herself at the age of 49!'” she laughs, press-savvy as she is. “No, I’m not in love with myself at all, I am loving that I understand who I really am. And I am not enamored or dazzled by this whole idea of fame. I think it’s fun, and it’s certainly better to have money than to not, and so I don’t deny that. No, it’s a really cool thing. It’s nice to be able to get what you want to get and all that stuff. Who I really am is a woman on purpose, trying to live on purpose.”
Her purpose, she says, is to inspire. It has been since she was a three-year-old impressing ladies in church. “The church ladies would say to my grandmother, ‘That child is the talkingest child. Where’d that child learn how to do ‘Invictus’?’ That was an inspiration then, to those people. That’s a running theme to me. That is what brings me joy.”
That much is clear. In all of the advice that she offered us in the forty-minute discussion, she feels that currently, her greatest strength is just simply paying attention. “I have paid attention to my life experience. Everything that has happened to me and is happening to you right now is happening to teach you more about yourself. Every mistake that I’ve made, I was listening,” she says.
One season of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” carried the tagline, “Change-your-life television” and now, a decade later, Winfrey acknowledges this as one of her many mistakes.
“Who am I to say that I’m actually changing your life? What I realized is that’s not for me to say, that’s for somebody else to say. Don’t go around telling people you’re going to change their lives, let them tell you what their experience was.”
This is the attitude she’s going into OWN with. “The intention of this channel is to bring good energy… and so that’s how we operate. Because I’ve been in TV all my life, I know that most TV programmers do not start the meeting with ‘How is this going to serve the viewer? If it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for me,” she says.
With that said… she is Oprah, so maybe she knows better, and we should just listen to her.
“There are a few shows that, even if [the audience doesn’t] respond I’m keeping on anyway, because I can,” she says, raising a teasing eyebrow. “Because I like them, and in time, it’ll grow on [the audience].”
And really, who are we to deny Oprah’s expertise?