- Associated Press - Sunday, January 1, 2012

Oprah Winfrey earned the rare opportunity to convert her media charisma into a monogrammed TV channel. Now she’s the one tasked with rescuing OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, after a disappointing first year.

It’s a high-stakes, potentially ego-shattering challenge that could make the strongest woman or man flinch. But win or lose, Ms. Winfrey said she relishes the fight to turn OWN’s fortunes around.

“Yes, some mistakes were made. Who hasn’t made mistakes? The real beauty is you can say, ‘I learned from that,’ ” Ms. Winfrey said. “I don’t worry about failure. I worry about, ‘Did I do all I could do?’ “

The cable channel, which marked the end of its first year Sunday, is trying for a fresh start after executive turnover and missteps that proved OWN lacked a solid foundation on which to build, this despite a Discovery Communications investment of a reported $250 million and counting.

Viewers snubbed the lineup that skimped on programming and, surprisingly, what should have been OWN’s unique weapon of choice: Ms. Winfrey herself, whose limited on-air presence has been increased with a new weekly series, “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”

Oprah Winfrey is shown with host Rosie O'Donnell (left) during the debut of "The Rosie Show," in Chicago in October. Miss Winfrey is tasked with rescuing OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, after a disappointing first year. "The Rosie Show" was added to the network's lineup. (Harpo Inc. via Associated Press)
Oprah Winfrey is shown with host Rosie O’Donnell (left) during the debut ... more >

OWN has failed to improve on, or in some instances even match, the modest ratings and small audience earned by the low-profile Discovery Health channel it replaced.

“I would absolutely say it is and was not where I want it to be for year one,” Ms. Winfrey said. “My focus up until [last] May was doing what I do best, which is ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and giving that my full attention” until its conclusion.

But Ms. Winfrey, who said management team errors in planning and execution could serve as a cautionary tale, rejects the idea that a single year’s performance will determine OWN’s ultimate fate. Or hers.

“Somebody was talking to me in that kind of saddened, ‘How are you?’ tone, and I was thinking, ‘I’m fine,’ ” said Ms. Winfrey, 57, who ruled as the queen of daytime TV until she ended her talk show after 25 years and turned her attention to the channel.

“I realized the reason people have this tone is they’re reading all the press [about OWN], so you see me and wonder if I can still walk. … I am a determined and committed woman. I don’t give up. I’m just getting started,” she said in a recent interview.

One bonus of being Oprah: She has received pep talks from other media movers and shakers.

“Everybody has told me — Ted Turner has told me, Barry Diller has told me, Lorne Michaels has told me, David Geffen has told me — anybody who’s ever worked with a channel, who’s ever done anything, has said it takes three to five years,” she said, adding, “You have to do the work. … You do not have to pay attention to the criticism.”

Year two for OWN will reflect executive changes made last July, when Ms. Winfrey expanded her role at the channel by adding the roles of chief executive and chief creative officer to her position as chairman. Discovery Communications COO Peter Liguori had filled in as interim head after OWN CEO Christina Norman was dismissed in the wake of poor ratings.

Although the channel’s ownership is split evenly between Discovery and Ms. Winfrey’s Chicago-based production company, Harpo Inc., it is Discovery’s money that’s on the line.

With more scheduling consistency, movies, original series with and without Ms. Winfrey, and “a lot more Oprah in general,” Discovery is “a lot more confident that we’re heading in the right direction,” said company spokesman David Leavy.

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