RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One of the world's most powerful and most recognized media figures is launching a new project on New Year's Day: OWN, O-W-N - stands for the Oprah Winfrey Network. NPR's Neda Ulaby says that its success could depend on whether Winfrey's audience will follow her to her new cable channel.
NEDA ULABY: To be clear, we're talking about a fan base so passionate in their devotion they've been repeatedly parodied on the Onion News Network.
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Unidentified Woman: The beloved talk show host made the announcement that she's going to invite fans to be buried along with her in her tomb upon her death.
ULABY: OK, so thats a joke. But here's what's not.
Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (Reporter, St. Petersburg Times): Now was a good time for her to leave syndicated television.
ULABY: Eric Deggans covers TV for the St Petersburg Times. He says since Winfrey started her show 25 years ago, a daily national syndicated show is less powerful than it used to be. Winfrey faced possible pay cuts and the loss of some important markets. Starting her own cable channel, he says, is potentially brilliant, but even for Oprah Winfrey, its audacious.
Mr. DEGGANS: There's really no precedent, I mean, I don't think anyone has ever built an entire cable channel around their own personal brand.
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Unidentified Man #1: OWN the new Oprah Winfrey Network, the only network that can jumpstart your health, wealth, and happiness.
ULABY: Really. Pretty big claims for a channel thats not even going to feature Winfrey herself 24/7, says critic Eric Deggans.
Mr. DEGGANS: You have reruns of "Trading Spaces," you have reruns of Dr. Phil. You have these reality shows built around cooking and sex therapy, and a guy who is a personal organizer. It is not necessarily the most thrilling stuff.
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Unidentified Man #2: It's impossible to make your best choices in a cluttered, messy disorganized space.
Mr. DEGGANS: I think the initial run of shows that they have scheduled to debut are going to be disappointing.
Ms. CHRISTINA NORMAN (Director, OWN Network): We never intended to make Oprah TV. That was never the goal of launching OWN.
ULABY: Christina Norman runs the OWN network. She used to run MTV. When I asked her if her mission was broadening Winfreys appeal past her core demographic of middle-aged ladies, she said do not underestimate the Oprah.
Ms. NORMAN: Young people admire her for what she's accomplished, men look at her as a financial business success, and think, like, wow, there's somebody who's really rocking it.
ULABY: The master plan, says Norman, is reaching as many people as possible with perfectly branded programming about living your best life.
Ms. NORMAN: "Oprah Presents Master Class" is really the show that, at least, that viewers will see on our launch, that she's been most heavily involved in. It was her idea and she curated the show.
ULABY: Eight of what they call thought leaders that is to say, Oprahs celebrity pals share, in the words of the channel, their life's lessons. They include Sydney Poitier, Maya Angelou.
Ms. NORMAN: Jay-Z, Simon Cowell, Lorne Michaels.
ULABY: Not the Dalai Lama?
Ms. NORMAN: Not the Dalai Lama, not for season one.
ULABY: The OWN network got off to a bumpy start. Many of the marquee shows will not debut until later in the season. Those include reality shows about the fraught personal lives of people like Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; Ryan and Tatum ONeal; and Shania Twain. And a daily talk show featuring a one-time competitor the woman once known as the Queen of Nice, Rose ODonnell - is not slated to begin until autumn.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And to see a video preview for OWN with an original song by Wyclef Jean visit npr.org.
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