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OWN Network – How Oprah Winfrey got over her trepidation

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OWN Channel - Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey (Chairman) © 2011 OWN

On January 6, 2011, six days after her new TV network OWN took to the airwaves, Oprah Winfrey came to the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California, to speak with the TV Critics Association.

Before the Q & A began, she spoke of launching such a gigantic undertaking.

We’ve worked very hard to make this network what it is right now, the vision of what is to come is even greater and I’m holding fast to that vision. 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 the ‘OWN.’

I thought about this journey to get here in terms of my whole life and how absolutely extraordinary it is when you tell your story. I was standing there, looking at [the TV] and myself doing the introduction to OWN, and I thought about [myself as a child] standing on a red dirt road, having gone downtown in Attala County, Mississippi, watching television from a Sear & Roebuck store and asking my grandmother, ‘Could we please get a TV?’ And she said no because it was the devil’s work. Now being able to have my name on a channel, it’s extraordinary.

Were you ever scared about doing your own network?

OWN Channel Launch - Judy Sloane
Reporter Judy Sloane at the OWN Channel Launch © 2011 Margie Barron

You probably have heard me say I was afraid at first. I had much trepidation about doing this, and then I read the Nancy Griffin article in July’s Vanity Fair about Michael Jackson. There was just one line where she said, ‘Michael Jackson’s friends always said that his biggest mistake was he never understood that Thriller was a phenomenon, and he spent his whole life chasing that phenomenon.’

It was more than a aha moment. All of my fear, my anxiety, my trepidation about what is this going to be and did I make the right decision, all of that left in that moment. That was a gift to me because I realize that’s what I’m doing. I’m clutching and trying to hold on to 25 years of success.

I pride myself on being centered enough to not be affected by what the outside world thinks but just to stay focused on yourself. I went, ‘Oh, no, you’ve bought into it. You’ve bought into the Oprah is so successful.’ That’s a falsehood.

If you start buying into ‘I cannot fail,’ then it makes you not willing to take a risk and not willing to grow yourself to what is and should be the next level for you.

From the beginning on your show, you always spotlighted not religion, but spirituality. I wonder how that is going to factor into your network?

OWN Channel launch party - Christina Norman, Oprah Winfrey and David Zaslav
Christina Norman, (CEO of OWN), Oprah Winfrey (Chairman) and David Zaslav (President and CEO) © 2011 OWN

People have their own definitions for spirituality, but my definition for it is ‘living with an open heart.’ The whole network is about encouraging people, for the most part, to live with an open heart.  It’s about opening yourself to all that is possible for you and extending yourself in grace and gratitude for what you have.

From that point-of-view, there is a spiritual tread through it. I don’t think it’s wise for us at this moment to go announcing that we are the spiritual channel. I think that there are many different ways to assert the nature of what is good without labeling it.

What were your hopes and dreams when you were a kid?

I just wanted to be able to be my best. At first I thought I was going to be a fourth-grade teacher, because of my favorite teacher, Mrs. Duncan. When I was in local television, the big goal was to be in network television. My biggest dream was I wanted to be a guest host on Good Morning America.

I asked my agent, ‘Could you just send my tape in to ABC so I could guest host?’ And the agent at the time told me there weren’t going to be any more black people on network television. So I let that agent go!

It’s such a wonderful question because after [I did] The Color Purple, I said that I learned that God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can dream for yourself. And I try to stay and live in that space. That is how I live my life now.

I see myself really as a messenger for a message that is greater than myself. And the message is, you can. You can. You can. You can do and you can be, and you can grow, and it can get better.

Do you ever want to take a day off from being Oprah? You say ‘Yes, you can,’ have you ever woken up and said, ‘You know, I can, but today I don’t want to.’

Reporter Judy Sloane with Oprah Winfrey
Reporter Judy Sloane with Oprah Winfrey at the OWN Network Launch © 2011 Rob Salem

Yes, many times. I have felt the same as everybody in this room. The difference is I have a TV show and I don’t have a sub host. I have to show up, and even when I’m not feeling 100 percent, I have to find a space inside myself that I can pull it out. People who watch me over the years, they know. They say, ‘You were looking tired today.’ I am tired, people!

What are you looking forward to when you don’t have the show?

I have to tell you I went from can I do it, I’m so scared about this network to I can’t wait to be able to work full time with my OWN team.

When you look at the pattern in your own life, it tells you the purpose. Everyone’s life has a purpose. When I look back the theme and purpose for me has always been inspiration.

When I was three years old, speaking in church, doing those Easter pieces that all black people know about, the church ladies would say to my grandmother, ‘That child is the talkin-ist child. Where’d that child learn to do invictus?’ That was inspiration even then to those older people.

The running theme for me is to be used as a vehicle for inspiring other people. That’s what brings me joy.

Reporter Judy Sloane at the OWN Network Launch briefly met with Oprah Winfrey face to face for a personal chat – here is that moment!

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The video in this feature was shot by Rob Salem and you can find his video feature on the event by clicking here.