This week New York Magazine published a revealing interview with Oprah Winfrey, reigning queen of reinvention. It specifically dealt with how she saved her OWN Network, which looked like a big bust as recently as mid-2012.
Oprah’s partnership with Arianna Huffington, which led to “HuffPost OWN”, wasn’t enough to immediately rescue the floundering ship, but OWN finally became profitable this summer as its ratings jumped more than 60%. Well-hyped interviews with Rihanna and Lance Armstrong helped, as did Tyler Perry‘s soap opera The Haves and the Have Nots, but many still wonder how she pulled it all off.
Here are some key revelations from the woman herself.
On dealing with “no”:
Oh, I hear that all the time.
What didn’t feel right from the beginning was, “Who are we going to get to do this? Because I have a full-time job.”
When I first suggested [network presidents] Erik and Sheri, [the idea] was not welcomed with open arms…I’d never done cable, and they’d never done cable.
On matching OWN’s content to its audience:
I have a tendency to look at everything from the point of view of: What is going to be meaningful, and uplift people? That can become too stoic and too serious…So we [began] looking for lighter fare.
On transcending reality TV trends:
…what I see, I don’t see that as a real reflection of people’s lives. Is everybody walking around calling each other names and behaving that way? I don’t think so.
On the value of positive, uplifting content:
The role that I see myself serving is to put a mirror up to people’s lives by allowing them to see, through the storytelling that we do, their lives through other people.
I’ve asked [network executives] the question, “Where is your moral compass?” Not a lot of people are thinking about that, but I feel a responsibility to it. To whom much is given, much is expected.
On taking pitches for new shows:
…they have what they call a “sizzle”—one to three minutes on whatever’s being proposed. And sometimes I don’t make it to three minutes…Because the energy’s off.
On being the public face of OWN:
…that’s what true leadership is—to be able to put whatever you’re doing, whether it’s your cupcake company or a network—in a position that it can sustain itself without you having to be the prominent force every day.
On changing career goals:
…years ago, before I even came to Chicago, I just wanted to be on a soap opera. But I have evolved.
The full interview is worth a read.