Oprah Winfrey on OWN: 'It's not where I want it to be' -- EXCLUSIVE


Image Credit: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions, Inc.

The good news: Oprah Behind the Scenes on OWN is exactly what it set out to be — an unfailingly honest and entertaining look at the making of The Oprah Show as it winds down its historic 25-year run in syndication. Now, the bad news: It can’t turn the fledgling network into an overnight success (the network just tossed out its CEO, Christina Norman). EW sat down with Winfrey at Harpo’s headquarters in Chicago, Ill., to talk about Behind the Scenes, how she comes across in the show, and whether she has any regrets about launching OWN while still doing her talk show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Oprah Behind the Scenes is addictive.
I wish more people were addicted to it! It’s getting better, though a lot of people still don’t know where to find it and how to find it. We just moved it to Sundays. It gives an accurate presentation of the surface of who we are, and people get an idea of what it takes to put these shows together. It doesn’t even begin to touch the nerve of who we really are. What’s really missing is how hard everybody works and the long hours that people put in, the sacrifices they have made with their families, and the depth of absolute passion.

How did it evolve?
It was my idea to do it. Originally, it was proposed to me to do it like Madonna: Truth or Dare, to do it as a film documentary piece. I did not feel like my audience, who supported me for 25 years on TV, wanted to then pay to go to the theater to watch a documentary. The idea of doing it as a TV series fulfilled two purposes — we needed programming for OWN, and it was a way to document the last season. It felt like a perfect idea.

One thing we don’t see on BTS is how much time you give to the Oprah Winfrey Network. 
I feel like I have not begun to give anything to OWN. I was on the phone yesterday with the head of OWN probably for 20 minutes, and then I was on another phone call for an hour, so I probably gave OWN an hour and 20 minutes yesterday. Not enough. Not enough. And I hadn’t talked to anybody for two or three days there. Doing this right and ending [Oprah] this way is a full-time job. And the magazine is a full-time job, but that’s its own machine now. I don’t have to do a lot with that anymore. But I still have to check in, approve things. I wouldn’t even say 10 percent of my time is on OWN right now. But it will be. [After the end of Oprah] I can start to give my attention to OWN that it deserves. It’s going to improve exponentially with the amount of time and service I can give to it.

Do you regret launching OWN before your talk show ended?
I’ve thought maybe it would have been better to wait until this completely ended and then literally use [Oprah] as a launchpad. If I had it to do differently and had thought of that option, I might have considered that a priority. But I don’t spend a lot of time in the regret mode.

How do you feel about OWN’s performance so far?
It’s not where I want it to be. I had a wonderful conversation with Lorne Michaels at a dinner party. He said it’s going to take three years, not two. And I am going to have to pay my dues and will be in the midst of a learning curve. And when I think I’ve learned as much as I need to know, I’ll be hit with something else. Don’t judge OWN until after three years. So that’s exactly what I have thought in my own mind.

The perception is that you are a perfectionist. Did you mean for BTS to dispel any impressions that are out there about you?
I was not trying to dispel anything. The only thing I’ve ever heard is how controlling I am. But that’s also not true. I want to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am about what they do, particularly if it comes to technology and computers, because I can’t get the damn TV on! I want them to do their jobs. And I want to give them the freedom and the allowance to do it as well as possible for themselves. And then I’m absolutely not in it until you come to tell me what the results are, and I will give you permission to execute that.

How do you think you’ve been portrayed on BTS?
On a camping episode, I had said to [supervising producer] Lisa Morin, when she came to me to want to redo something, I said, “You must be delusional if you think I’m going to do that.” If you know my personality, you know I’m not trying to humiliate anybody. That’s my way of saying, get the heck out of here, are you crazy or whatever? People thought I was really harsh in saying that. I didn’t mean it to be harsh. It was that moment.

Have you ever gone back to edit the way you came across in an episode?
Yes, for the Jennifer Hudson episode. That was a lot of high drama because we’ve never been stood up before. There were a lot of people saying a lot of things. Everybody was mad. I wanted to make sure that there was not one single thing in that episode that had anything to do with us being mad or upset in that moment. It was dramatic. Nobody has ever not shown up, ever. Especially if they were here the night before.

One of the great things about this show is how you appear without makeup.
I’ve taken that to an all-time low, Oh my God. Jesus, I need a little vanity. I’m not asking for vanity fair, but just a little. The camping trip was an all-time low for makeup and pajamas. I do think I could have had nicer pajamas. The reason why it doesn’t completely make me feel like, God, I should improve myself is that people have seen me. They know I can pull it together. And in real life, people don’t have coordinated outfits. I don’t have coordinated outfits!

For more on Oprah Behind the Scenes, check out the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands today.

Read more:
OWN replaces CEO

Oprah Behind the Scenes: Best episode to date?
Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show to be filmed at Harpo Studios


Comments (287 total) Add your comment
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  • Annie

    I am not an Oprah fan by any means. But discovered Behind the Scenes late one night and was hooked. My issue is it is hard to find when BTS airs, so I never watch it faithfully. Last time I watched BTS was back in Feb. Another issue I have with OWN is I do not like the show lineup. It does not interest me in the least. I hope OWN can get some great ideas and pilots to get more viewers. As for now, it is a snoozefest.

    • Bren

      I totally agree. Nothing on the network really seemed all that different than shows everyone else was offering.

      • Heidi

        Here’s the thing. Oprah has this show on her network where kids steal their dad away from work because they spend too much time away from home. Then she has staff who she expects to put in insane hours and to give basically all they have. She even talks here about the sacrifices they’ve made with their families.

        Its hypocritical.

      • Tom

        The soaps are leaving. Oprah is leaving. It’s the end of afternoon TV.

      • Danny

        Don’t fret Tom, you’ll get a run in your nylons. Don’t forget the cotton balls between your toes for those pedicures now.

    • Reptillica

      Wow…I wonder if this was a plant.

    • Ran

      OWN can’t compete without a few tentpole scripted dramas to shore up the network. Showtime, USA and HBO all have amazing dramas. If Oprah can put musicals on Broadway and award winning mini-series on network TV then she can make sure her network has real shows on it, not just reality crap.

  • sondra

    Programming on OWN is crap. Oprah reruns, Dr. Phil reruns. I have never watched dr.phil on network tv. Go across the whole day for own and it is terrible.

    • binny

      that is why I am disappointed with OWN. I find dr. Phil reruns extremely uninteresting. It comes across like trash tv psychology. But whenever I turn to the OWN channel, it is a rerun of dr. Phil. Lisa Ling is good but I can never find her shows.

    • SaraJeanQueen

      I am excited to see Rosie O’Donnell’s new show on her network, but I didn’t know that it’s not on cable!! No way am I going to pay extra just for one channel.

      • Lisa

        Exactly, expecially during these hard financial economical times I cannot subscribe to an extended cable package just to watch OWN. Oprah of all people… (who’s suppose to be the one that connects with the underdog should understand many who are in my position)

      • Brenda

        There are a lot of us who have watched Oprah for years and would love to watch OWN, simply can’t afford to anymore. I’m afraid this my own network thing is going to come back and bite her in the ass.

    • Kiki

      Maybe O could do a diet show of some sort. Oh wait, didn’t she try that a number of times and then always gave up on her own advise and what she was lecturing? Yeh, that’s why we take whatever she says with little interest.

  • Hermione

    What’s this about JHud standing them up? I never heard about that….huh, doesn’t around like something JHud would do…. Great interview tho, thx EW.:)

    • Stevex

      She came to Chicago and did a rehearsal for a show that was scheduled to tape the next day. She then flew to Dallas to perform at a party, and didn’t tell Oprah’s crew. She was supposed to fly back to Chicago after the party, but an ice storm delayed her flight until late the next morning. She arrived back at Oprah’s studio 2 hours after the show was scheduled to start, and everyone, from Oprah on down, was royally pissed.

      • Hermione

        DAMN! I wonder what kinds of terms the two are on now…? That was pretty dumb to schedule another event tho.

      • bigtimeliberal

        i see the problem. all those dead folk in chicago were tired from voting and just couldnt make it.

      • Sharon J

        You left out another big part of the story. They were scheduled to tape three shows that day, with JH’s show being the first. So the two-hour delay not only effected the audience for that show but the guests and audiences for TWO additional shows. Not cool, JHud.

  • Rachel

    Sorry Oprah…the issue is that there aren’t any good shows on you’re network. Maybe if she was more innovative (meaning no shows about being addicted to food,etc) the channel would do better? I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    • Justkidding

      If she needs shows for her network she could get Mr.Ed, The Munsters, Gilligans Island, F-Troop, and McHale’s Navy for pennies. And don’t forget all those old Hazel, and Francis the talking Mule movies!

      • bigtimeliberal

        heck yeah, those old shows are good. and maybe a fox news break every half hour so the brain dead watching OWN can hear whats really going on.

    • Eileen Pressler

      Are we supposed to feel sorry for Oprah because it is hard work to do these shows? I do not begrudge her becoming extremely wealthy through her work but, gimme a break gal. There are tons of people who work very hard at what they do and do not get wealthy. This is your life, do something else if it is too tough for you.

      • Nita

        I don’t think she feels sorry for herself! i think people just want her to feel sorry for herself…she has nothing to feel sorry about. She could just retire and do nothing, but she’s actually doing something with her time so bravo to her!!

      • todd

        she isn’t asking for people to feel sorry for her, shes just giving an honest interview. She even says she doesn’t spend a lot of time in regret mode. Its harder work than she thought. plain and simple. what interview did you read?

  • Nick T

    The third answer has a bunch of confusing grammar errors. Just a note.

    • Nick T

      But that was a great interview with great questions

      • Danny

        Yeah, if you have a vagina. Dude, seriously – man up just a little.

    • bigtimeliberal

      who the hell cares about the grammar and speeling,all you perfect pimples need to lighten up

      • Laura K.

        Because if you can’t communicate your thoughts intelligibly, why should anyone listen to you?

    • Danny

      Nick, it’s an interview. You don’t correct someone’s grammar in an interview – you word things the way they were spoken.

    • C Men

      What errors are you talking about anyway. I don’t see any. Maybe you’re just not as smart as you think you are and what you’re seeing is actually correct.

  • Julia

    Well….it’s not in High Definition for one thing. At least on Satellite TV, like DISH & Direct TV. Almost every network and cable channel is these days. So when you look at the OWN channel, it looks like crap. You’d think they could spend a little money to make it look sharp and not all fuzzy and unfocused.

    • Paul

      yeah its in HD now on Dish Network…

    • Chris

      It is HD on Dish and some cable providers. It’s up to the individual provider to pick up the HD version. It took over Discovery Health’s spot which not a lot of carriers (if any?) had in HD, so OWN has to make new agreements with all the providers. Takes time. In my area, our cable provider still doesn’t have Comedy Central or Bravo in HD.

  • kepeneter

    Put the network on a less costly cable or franchise it for network pickup so it is free to viewers as “Oprah” is. Nobody will pay extra.

  • Ben

    Dear Lynette or whomever – please get a proof-reader. Does this sentence from the article make sense to you?: “I don’t have to a lot with that anymore.”

    • C Men

      It makes sense to me. It means she doesn’t have to do a lot with that anymore. Man, you are not bright.

      • Lala

        Oprah, is that you?

  • Dustin

    Just started watching this show because of this article. I am already addicted from episode 1!

    • ken loring

      Dear Ben or WHOever — please get a grammar coach….

    • bigtimeliberal

      doesnt take much to please simple minds

      • wakeforce

        Dear bigtimeliberal- Go F*ck yourself, cause no one else wants to!

  • Ned

    How about changing the OWN logo, which looks like an ad for Lifesavers?

    • Colleen

      LOL Ned-your right!

  • pbev7

    If this network fails it’ll be because it on pay cable, not basic. Give people free access to decent programming and the best programs will rise to the top.

    Just saying.

  • Brad

    Guys, there are a few too many typos in this piece. ONE more proofread.

  • James Johns Jr

    “I Love You.”

  • anon

    Oprah’s premise for creating OWN is (1) enough people are committed to personal growth that (2) they will subscribe to the cable pkg that carries OWN and (3) they will consistantly watch the OWN lineup. I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

    • Carolyn

      I enjoy behind the scenes. I look forward to seeing it every sunday now that I know what time and station. I will help the rating. I keep the televison on that channel even when I am not watching televison. I agree to many food programs and to many reruns. I can’t seem to find reruns for behind the scence when I miss it.

      • Carolyn

        Oh well I made some typos
        get over it perfect people.

      • KipNoxzema

        Yes, keep doing that, since the ratings are from Nielsen’s SURVEYS.

        I can see the core demographics for THIS network. No wonder it’s in trouble.

      • LibelFreeZone

        Carolyn wrote: I will help the rating. I keep the televison on that channel even when I am not watching televison.

        Why? Are you a Nielsen family? If not, your viewing doesn’t matter.

      • Sigh

        I could care less about the spelling, but do you think ‘something’ is keeping track of what you are watching? Save electricity, no one knows Oprah is on your TV unless they are peeking in your window.

  • justavoter

    Oprah is a perfect democrat. She makes her billions off other people’s unhappiness.

    • Monica

      @justavoter. What an idiotic statement.

      • bigtimeliberal

        i agree monica your statement was idiotic.

      • Sun

        I’m sorry you are in such a hard place right now. There are no words that I can offer to comfort you, I azilree that. When we are hurting words are just noises anyway. I do think it is positive that you are seeking someone to talk to. It seems to help so many people. You have been through so much, naturally you are hurting beyond measure. I hope you and T get to do something nice for each other this weekend. I know it will be hard but there is so much love between you, focus on that. Sending peace to you.

    • LAUREL


    • gobnait

      justavoter: You are 100% correct.

    • Jack Kennedy

      Justavoter …. Very true but typical for o hypocrite

    • SpotLight

      That is a great description for rich democrats that enrich themselves on the backs of others while doing very little for those that they claim to support. Elected democrats are a classic example.

    • teresa

      I think some of you have gotten Democrats and Republicans mixed up. Furthermore, I don’t think her political beliefs have anything to do with her show. Donahue, Povich, Williams, Raphel, McGraw, etc. etc. have all used unhappy people to make money. It’s not a new medium.

    • jnsesq

      Got that right, voter. And all these adoring, brain-locked video drones turn out to do her bidding on election day to keep those billions flowing away from those who produced them.

    • 1984AnimalFarm


    • kremzeek!

      @ justavoter, and republicans CAUSE other people’s unhappiness.

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