1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Oprah Winfrey
Chris Pizzello  /  AP
Oprah Winfrey, chairman of OWN, addressed reporters during the Discovery Communications Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 2/10/2011 11:04:09 PM ET 2011-02-11T04:04:09

Even Oprah Winfrey has confidence issues.

The queen of media has tackled plenty of challenges in her life, but she second-guessed herself when she held the power of programming for her Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture between the talk-show host and Discovery Communications.

While most network programmers have brand guidelines to help in the decision-making process, Winfrey enjoys a relatively free rein when it comes to OWN.

Still, in the time leading up to the Jan. 1 launch, she began fretting about her programming choices.

“Just a few weeks ago, I started thinking maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people really do want to watch housewives bicker,” Winfrey said. “I could absolutely be wrong about what I think people want to watch, and this could be the biggest lesson ever for me.”

Reason to worry?
And if the early ratings are any indication, she may have been right to worry a bit.

In its first month, OWN averaged 358,000 prime-time viewers in the target demographic of women 25 to 54, which was up 33 percent from last year’s numbers for Discovery Health, the network it replaced.

But according to ratings trackers tvbythenumbers.com, prime-time viewers in the network’s key demographic slipped to a mere 54,000 the week of Jan. 31-Feb. 6. By comparison, competitors Lifetime pulled in 394,000 viewers, Hallmark 182,000 and Oxygen 133,000 during the same week.

For her part, Winfrey doesn’t seem too concerned about the ratings.

“The number of people who found us surpassed my expectations and it proved that people were tired of the snark and the back-biting and wanted something different,” Winfrey said.

Looking at the lineup
OWN has yet to cancel any shows, and small production tweaks have been ongoing, which spokespeople for the network say is to be expected.

Overwhelmingly, the most popular original show on the network thus far has been “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes,” which chronicles the current — and final season — of her popular talk show.

  1. More Entertainment stories
    1. Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts

      In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...

    2. Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
    3. See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
    4. Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
    5. 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom

For many critics, it is the one genuinely compelling piece of programming on the channel.

“You get some real insight into how Winfrey thinks, how she deals with her staff. And no matter how they wrap it, they are clearly nervous about what she’ll think of anything and everything, and it feels more smart than smarmy,” said Philadelphia Daily News TV critic Ellen Gray. “The problem, of course, is that show goes away when the talk show does. Yet it is the one show people who love Oprah are most interested in.”

Other original programs on the network include declutter series “Enough Already! With Peter Walsh,” cooking shows “Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag” and “Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love,” and the soon premiering “Searching For …” (Feb. 14), “Breaking Down the Bars” (Feb. 15) and “Our America With Lisa Ling” (Feb. 15).

During her Television Critics Association press tour panel in January, Winfrey remarked it was extraordinary to have her name on a channel and a place for her vision of what should be on television.

“A new kind of television where people would respond to the idea of something meaningful and positive in their lives,” Winfrey said. “Not just feeding them sweetness, but feeding them something that could be nurturing for their spirit, for their soul, for their mind.”

And like getting folks to eat their leafy greens, Winfrey doesn’t mind forcing the issue.

“There are a few shows (on OWN) that even if (viewers) don’t respond, I’m keeping them on anyway because I can, because I like them,” Winfrey said. “And in time, (the shows) will grow on (the viewers).”

One of those shows not doing so well? “Big Bowl of Love,” which lands at the bottom of OWN’s ratings barrel. But at OWN, it may have a longer time to build an audience than at any other network.

'Building the channel'
Only someone like Winfrey can boldly state she can disregard ratings, at least at the moment.

“I’ve been in TV all my life and I know most television programmers do not start the meeting by ‘How is this going to serve the viewer?’ ” Winfrey said. “Numbers are important, but they’re not as important to me right now as they might be to you. What I’m concerned about is building the channel with programming that is meaningful to our viewers.”

  1. Most popular

To that end, Winfrey is not that far off from most programmers. The difference is Winfrey’s brand is just starting. Other programmers come in with an established brand they have to program around.

“Networks have brands and you want to make sure that the show you’re doing is going to fit the network that it’s on, because if it’s not in fertile territory, it can be the best show in the world but maybe it should have been on FX or AMC,” said Paul Lee, head of ABC Entertainment. “So you want to make sure that it fulfills the brief of the overall network. But within that brief, there’s room for experimentation.”

While established networks continue to work within their parameters, Winfrey keeps looking at all the possible programs she would like to see on her OWN network.

“There’s so many places to fill and so many shows I want to have on,” Winfrey said. “I want to have a program that speaks to young people. I want a program that speaks to young parents. I want to have a program for young single women. And I want a program about pets. There are so many programs I want on my network, but it all takes time.”

Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Oprah: I'm feeling great about Obama’s leadership

Photos: Oprah Winfrey

loading photos...
  1. 'The Butler'

    Oprah Winfrey isn't just a talk-show host. Her acting has been critically acclaimed. She received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for playing the wife of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) in "The Butler" in 2013. (Anne Marie Fox / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. YOU get a thank you, and YOU get a thank you...

    Winfrey acknowledges fans during a star-studded taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," in Chicago on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. Her famed talk show went off the air after 25 years as Winfrey moves to her OWN network. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Honor from Hizzoner

    In one of his last acts before leaving office, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley presents Winfrey with a sign after a street was named in her honor outside her Harpo Studios in Chicago on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Presidential visitors

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are pictured with Winfrey during a taping of one of her last shows in Chicago on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Winfrey memorably cried tears of joy when Obama was elected. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. On her OWN

    Winfrey, chairman of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, announces the new original programming for the channel's Jan. 1, 2011 launch to members of the advertising and media communities on Thursday, April 8, 2010 in New York. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Going Gaga

    Oprah Winfrey wears sunglasses and holds a hair bow given to her by Lady Gaga, left, after a live broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on Friday, Jan. 15, 2010 in Chicago. (George Burns / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Backed by Oprah

    Executive producers Tyler Perry, right, and Oprah Winfrey walk the red carpet at the AFI Fest 2009 gala screening of their new film "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" in Hollywood on Nov. 1, 2009. (Fred Prouser / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Chicago's failed Olympic bid

    First lady Michelle Obama, left, sits next to Winfrey and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, right, at the opening ceremonies of the 121st International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session and XIII Olympic Congress at the Copenhagen Opera House on Oct. 1, 2009, in Copenhagen. Despite the star power backing its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, Chicago was eliminated during the first round. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The queen of daytime

    Winfrey, right, performs with the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie, center, and will.i.am, left, in Chicago on Sept. 8, 2009, while taping an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The episode was taped on a three-block stretch of Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River to celebrate the show's 24th season. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Honorary degree

    Winfrey smiles at Duke president Richard Brodhead after receiving her honorary degree from Duke University during a graduation ceremony in Durham, N.C., on May 10, 2009. Her godson, William Bumpus, son of her well-known friend, Gayle King, was among the graduates. (John Rottet / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A powerful woman

    Oprah Winfrey arrives at the 17th Annual Women In Entertainment Power 100 Breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2008. Winfrey was No. 1 on the list, which is compiled by the Hollywood Reporter. (Katy Winn / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Book promoter

    Winfrey holds a copy of her September 2008 pick for her Book Club -- David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." Since launching her Book Club in 1996, Winfrey has helped authors from Toni Morrison to Joyce Carol Oates sell millions of books. (George Burns / Harper Productions via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Helping to celebrate

    Winfrey arrives for the birthday dinner party of former South African President Nelson Mandela at Hyde Park in London on June 25, 2008. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The 'O' endorsement

    In another first for the talk-show maven, Winfrey endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president in 2007. She hosted a fundraiser for Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle, on Sept. 8, 2007, at her home in Montecito, Calif. That weekend, Winfrey made four joint appearances with Obama at various campaign stops. (Harpo Productions via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. For the girls

    On Jan. 2, 2007, Winfrey, center, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of her Leadership Academy for Girls School in South Africa. "The school will teach girls to be the best human beings they can ever be; it will train them to become decision-makers and leaders; it will be a model school for the rest of the world," Winfrey wrote on the academy's Web site. (Denis Farrell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Oprah, Dave ... Dave, Oprah

    David Letterman walks hand-in-hand with Winfrey from the Ed Sullivan Theater to the premiere of her new musical "The Color Purple" at the nearby Broadway Theater after Winfrey made an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Dec. 1, 2005, in New York. For years Letterman had a running joke about how Oprah didn't like him. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Red-carpet ready

    Winfrey, right, and actress Halle Berry strike a pose for the cameras on the red carpet at the 77th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 25, 2005. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. In front of, and behind, the camera

    Winfrey brought her own camcorder to the 30th Annual People's Choice Awards on Jan. 11, 2004, in Pasadena, Calif. (Carlo Allegri / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Powerful friends

    Winfrey joined U2 frontman and philantrophist Bono at a gala dinner before the "Give 1 Minute to AIDS" concert for The Nelson Mandela Foundation's 46664 campaign held at Greenpoint Stadium on Nov. 27, 2003, in Cape Town, South Africa. (Dave Benett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Hall of Famer

    Winfrey was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Magazine Hall of Fame on Nov. 11, 2002. She attended the gala at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. (Evan Agostini / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Charitable giving

    Winfrey stands in front of hundreds of children in Durban, South Africa, on Dec. 8, 2002. Tens of thousands of children received gifts of food, clothing, athletic shoes, school supplies, books and toys as part of Winfrey's philanthropic trip for her charity, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. (Benny Gool / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Cruise control

    Actor Tom Cruise appeared on Winfrey's show on Dec. 6, 2001, to talk about his film "Vanilla Sky" and his break-up with then-wife Nicole Kidman. Cruise returned to her show in 2005 to talk about his new love, actress Katie Holmes. Cruise gained cultural infamy for jumping on Winfrey's couch in an enthusiastic display of his love for Holmes. (George Burns / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. W to W

    Then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush gives a kiss to Winfrey after appearing on her show on Sept. 19, 2000. (Tannen Maury / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Magazine boss

    Winfrey is joined by Barbara Walters, left, and Diana Ross, right, at the launch party for her magazine on April 17, 2000, at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York. (Evan Agostini / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Movie star

    Winfrey co-starred with Danny Glover in the movie "Beloved," director Jonathan Demme's adaption of Toni Morrison's novel. (Touchstone Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. What's the beef?

    Winfrey arrives at the federal courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, in January 1998. Cattlemen filed a lawsuit against her for saying on her talk show that the U.S. beef industry could be at risk of spreading mad cow disease. The trial forced Winfrey to move her show to Amarillo for several episodes. She won that trial, but the cattlemen filed another suit a few weeks later. A U.S. District judge ultimately dismissed the case in 2002. (Akhtar Hussein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Running for the cause

    Winfrey ran in the Revlon Run/Walk for Women 5K to raise money for women's cancer organizations in 2007. She has been open about battles with weight and her love-hate relationship with exercise. (Mirek Towski / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Furry escort

    Winfrey brought one of her furry friends with her to Ebony Magazine's "Celebrate the Dream: 50 Years of Ebony Magazine" event on Nov. 17, 1996. (Ron Wolfson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Golden girl, and her man

    Longtime boyfriend Stedman Graham has been by Winfrey's side at many awards shows, including the Daytime Emmy Awards. In 1987, her first year of eligibilty, she claimed three Emmys, including one for outstanding host and outstanding talk program. (Robin Platzer / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Hot topics

    In 1994, Winfrey consoled a distraught mourner during a segment of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" taped at Buffalo United Methodist Church, in Union, S.C., following the revelation that fellow townswoman Susan Smith drowned her sons, Alex and Michael, when she let her car roll into a local lake. The case drew nationwide interest. (Taro Yamasaki / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Weight issues

    On Nov. 16, 1988, Winfrey rolled out a toy wagon containing 68 pounds of fat on her show to illustrate how much weight she had lost. She credited her 68-pound weight loss to a liquid diet and exercise. Her goal was to fit into a size 10 pair of blue jeans for the first time. However, she quickly gained the weight back and has see-sawed ever since. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Famous friend

    Winfrey strikes a pose with famed composer and producer Quincy Jones. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Oscar nominee

    Winfrey co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg, second from right, and Rae Dawn Chong, right, in "The Color Purple" in 1985. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sofia. She would later name her production company Harpo, another character in the film, which is also Oprah spelled backwards. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Early promise

    An 18-year-old Winfrey received the Miss WVOL award from the Nashville, Tenn., radio station in 1972. Winfrey rose quickly from local radio and TV reporter to become host of her own nationally syndicated talk show. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss: What types of programs would entice you to watch OWN?

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Nbc / Douglas Gorenstein/NBC

    Ptooey! Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon have a messy conversation on 'Tonight'

    7/26/2014 3:35:12 PM +00:00 2014-07-26T15:35:12
  1. Fatal mistake: What everyone should know about hot-car deaths

    It's depressingly common for parents to leave children in broiling hot cars, and each case carries lessons for how to avoid similar circumstances.

    7/26/2014 5:08:32 PM +00:00 2014-07-26T17:08:32