Oprah Winfrey admits the OWN network is still a work in progress.
"We're building, night by night by night. What everyone told me about the cable business is the way you do cable is you start with a couple of shows, people are used to repeats," Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter from the Chicago offices of Harpo Productions. "Oprah viewers were not!"
Winfrey says she's actively seeking audience input while building her network, and even signed up for an email@example.com email address on her website last week, which she plans to use to interact with people.
The network's first hit is Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, which earlier this month was averaging 546,000 viewers, and has seen a 40 percent boost in the network's key women 25-54 demo from DVR usage. 1.6 million viewers tuned in to its premiere. Compared to what Discovery Health was averaging in 2010, it's up 262 percent in total viewers.
The show "was my idea," says Winfrey. "Originally there was some talk about doing it as a documentary film. I shot that down, because I thought my viewers don't want to now go pay to see a film about me. [I said], 'What would make it really interesting is to put it in your living rooms, where I've been all these years.'"
Winfrey's producers are followed by a 16-person production team, Harpo president (and producer of Winfrey's talk show for 15 years) Sheri Salata tells THR. ("Oprah is the only person who has any comfort at all in front of the camera," she jokes. For the rest of the staff," it's agonizing." Quips Winfrey: "It's second nature for me. I've been on camera since I was 19. A lot of people are a little awkward.")
Despite Winfrey insisting that she doesn't think her life "is that darn entertaining," the series will continue to delve deeper into her personal life, including more appearances by longtime partner Stedman Graham, whom Winfrey comments is the no. 1 fan.
"They had a shot of me in the tub [Wednesday]. I thought it was too much. C'mon people, we went a little too far behind the scenes with this shot!" jokes Winfrey.
It will chronicle the end of production through May. Then later this year, Winfrey's new show, Oprah's Next Chapter, will kick off in the same vein.
"Oprah as we know it with a studio audience is over. We can't do it any better than we've done it," Salata tells THR. "I think you can expect to see Oprah out in the world, and having the look and feel very different. it's about what Oprah is interested in exploring and interested in life."
"I think we've figured out how to do it," Salata goes on. "If we stay in a reality style, and not having Oprah as a presenter. There will be interviews, some things will be really elaborate like with Australia…"
Winfrey explains it like this: "Oprah's Next Chapter is a loose feel, like Behind the Scenes…. We'll shoot the interview wherever it's happening, in that sort of reality space. It's about trying to stay in the truth space, the reality space. It's also just making it good television."
In the meantime, Winfrey is counting down until the end of her talk show, and plans to take a vacation after taping her Oscars special.