By David Bauder
PASADENA, Calif. — Oprah Winfrey says she’s “grateful that we weren’t embarrassed” during the much-anticipated first weekend that her new OWN network was on the air.
For a network started from scratch, OWN delivered some impressive sampling on its Jan. 1 debut. At one point Saturday night, OWN was the third-ranked cable network behind ESPN and USA in the ratings. The challenge will be turning the curious into regular viewers.
“I am grateful that the first phase of what we wanted to happen actually happened,” Winfrey told reporters on Thursday. “I’m grateful that we weren’t embarrassed. I’m grateful that people came.”
Winfrey called her network’s programming “mind food” and said the intention is to bring positive energy into the homes of people who watch it.
“I see myself as a messenger for a message that is greater than myself and my message is you can, you can, you can,” she said.
OWN announced last Thursday that personal finance expert Suze Orman would be getting her own prime-time show this fall. The series, “Money Class,” will feature Orman visiting individuals and families across the country to give them advice on their own financial circumstances.
OWN highlighted a handful of its new programs on Thursday, including a competition where 10 contestants (out of 15,000 applicants) are vying for the chance to host their own show. “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, who is producing the competition, has committed to producing six episodes of the winner’s show.
It’s a diverse group of panelists, including an obese chef who wants to do a cooking show that illustrates his effort to get back into shape, a disabled man who wants a show on overcoming obstacles he faces traveling around the world and a prospective variety show host who wants to be “America’s gay best friend.”
Lisa Ling’s new series, “Our America,” shows her profiling people involved in controversial issues, including sex offenders, faith healers, drug addicts and online brides.
Burnett said OWN’s programming, at least at its start, has not been predictable.
“It’s an unimaginable task to me what they’ve all pulled off,” the veteran producer said.
Winfrey noted that not all of the new programs will succeed with viewers, although they may succeed with the most important viewer.
“There are a few shows, even if they don’t respond to, I’m keeping them on because I can, because I like ’em,” she said.
She said she didn’t truly understand the work that would be involved in starting the network — and needed her partners at Discovery Communications Inc. to point that out to her. She said she didn’t expect to take a vacation in three years.
“It was not actually until we were on the air that I fully started to grasp what it means to have a network where you are the OW of OWN,” she said.
Winfrey did, however, disappoint the first reporter to ask her a question on Thursday.
“Are we all going to get cars?” the reporter asked.