Oprah delighted with OWN network launch

LOS ANGELES Fri Jan 7, 2011 1:49pm EST

Oprah Winfrey answers a question at a panel during the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California January 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Oprah Winfrey answers a question at a panel during the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California January 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A delighted Oprah Winfrey said on Thursday she had gone from scared to excited about the gamble of launching her new OWN cable television network.

Speaking to TV journalists five days after the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network, the talk show queen said she realized there could be difficult times ahead but she firmly believed Americans were ready for more thoughtful and inspirational TV programs.

"I went from, 'can I do it? I'm so scared' to 'I can't wait to do it full time'," Winfrey said of the January 1 launch of OWN, a joint venture between Discovery Communications and her production company, Harpo.

"OWN feels like a big paintbox where I have an idea and I can build on that idea. Who gets this in their life? It is better than anything," she said.

OWN CEO Christina Norman said the channel, a largely female-oriented mixture of lifestyle, advice and uplifting shows, was off to an "incredibly strong start overall".

She said 13 million people tuned in to the network between its Saturday launch and Monday, proving OWN could attract a big audience. The aim is to break into the top 5 cable channels during prime time, and the top 10 during the day, Norman said.

But Winfrey, 56, said she was less concerned with ratings. "I am grateful we weren't embarrassed and that people came," she said.

"At this point in my life, I am not trying to get everybody. I am only trying to get the people who want to hear. ...There is a critical mass of people -- we haven't found them all -- who want different programing.

"I think we are going to have some perhaps rocky times with the channel, keeping people there and keeping them motivated to watch. But we can do that, because I believe that people want it, and now there is no better time for it," she added.

Three years in the making, OWN is the biggest gamble in Winfrey's career. Considered the most influential person on U.S. TV, she is due to end her "The Oprah Winfrey Show" daytime talk program later in 2011 after 25 years and focus on OWN.

On Thursday she recalled the extraordinary journey she has taken from her childhood roots in poverty-stricken Mississippi to get to the point where she could launch a TV network.

"It was not until we went on air that I fully started to grasp what it means to have a network where you are the OW of the OWN.

"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.

"I thought about standing on that red dirt road ... watching TV from a Sears and Roebuck store, asking my grandmother if I could get a television, and she said 'No, that's the devil's work'," she said.

OWN has announced a total of 23 original series so far. New shows launching next week include a TV version of radio host Gayle King's daytime talk show, and a contest in which 10 Americans from diverse walks of life pitch ideas for their own reality TV show -- on the OWN network.

(Editing Bob Tourtellotte)

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