STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Oprah Winfrey's diet is in the news. This time it's not what she's eating that's news but what she's buying.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Winfrey has bought a 10 percent stake in Weight Watchers. She will join the board and lend her name. And just those facts sent up the company's stock value. That's just some of the news from the Oprah empire, which includes publishing, movie production, philanthropy and a struggling cable network.
INSKEEP: Oprah's touch has not quite worked for the Oprah Winfrey Network known as OWN, O-W-N. This week, Winfrey's network tries again, beginning a series called "Belief," which explores religious traditions. She spoke with NPR special correspondent Michele Norris.
MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: We spoke with Oprah Winfrey yesterday just a few hours after the news broke about her Weight Watchers partnership. When we began, the stock was already up 50 percent.
OPRAH WINFREY: Thanks for telling me. The stock was up what? Say that again.
NORRIS: Well, you know, it's moved again. It's up 75 percent now. Did you know that?
WINFREY: Good God, no, I did not. No, I did not. I was getting my hair done, and then I realized I didn't have to get my hair done to talk to you. I could've just rolled out of bed.
NORRIS: It's radio. You could've come in your pajamas, but...
WINFREY: (Laughter) I could have come in my pajamas. You're right. No, Weight Watchers was really the answer to a long, fervent prayer that I'd been having with myself about my relationship with food. And the phone call came from Weight Watchers. So they called me and asked would I be interested in talking to them about establishing a relationship, and I said sure. And, you know, I had never done Weight Watchers...
NORRIS: You really - you answered that quickly. You didn't think about it? You - it just felt intuitive to you.
WINFREY: Yeah, I didn't even think about it. I didn't even think about it because I thought, whoa. You know, I've had many, many friends do Weight Watchers over the years. And so we had a meeting, yes. And I said, well, I couldn't do anything with them without trying the program first to see if that worked for me. You know, so far I've lost about 14 pounds on it.
NORRIS: Did you get involved in this more because of your personal interest or your personal journey, or was this purely a business decision or a combination?
WINFREY: Oh, it was not - nothing is ever purely a business decision with me. It was a personal decision that allowed me to make a smart business decision. I always lead with my heart because the truth is my heart is my brand. And, you know, the decision to do the network, I led with my heart. So everything for me comes from what is it that feels in alignment with what is the truth of what I want to represent and express in the world? And then try to make the best business decision, negotiate the best possible outcome for yourself.
NORRIS: The "Belief" series is a gamble for the Oprah Winfrey Network as it struggles to find a broader audience. Her massive TV viewership did not all follow her to cable.
WINFREY: I assumed that the audience from "The Oprah Show" would just automatically come to OWN when, in fact, most of them didn't even have the channel or have the cable package or understood what that meant.
NORRIS: She hopes to change that with the seven-part series examining religious practices around the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BELIEF")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The way I look at it, God brought me into this world for a purpose, the same as God brought every human being into this world for a purpose.
NORRIS: Each episode spotlights individuals who turn to or in some cases struggle with their faith when going through tough times - a skateboarder who makes the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, a Hindu woman who just can't connect with her faith. And then there's Larissa and Ian.
WINFREY: That story is of a young girl who'd only been dating for 10 months Ian. And he - they were engaged to be married, and then there's this tragic accident where he ends up paralyzed. And she not only stays with him but chooses to marry him.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BELIEF")
LARISSA MURPHY: I prayed a lot, just tried to cast it on the Lord. Like, if this is not what my future is to be, just take away this love. I didn't fall out of love with him, and I didn't stop loving him. And I knew he wouldn't leave me if the role were reversed.
NORRIS: In the story of Ian and Larissa, the small moment that stood out for me was after that moment where they're announced man and wife. And they kiss, and they stand up. And she instinctively - because he can't stand up on his own - she helps him up. But she reaches down and pulls down the front of his shirt, you know, because...
WINFREY: Oh, yes.
NORRIS: It's just this little, tiny moment, but that foreshadows, you know, what the rest of her life is going to be like. She's always going to have to, you know...
WINFREY: You know what? I love that moment. And it reminds me of exactly what you're saying. It reminds me, I think - she's going to be doing that her entire life - not only just helping him up, but is your shirt down? Is your - you know, did you finish your food - I mean, every single thing he needs help with. And she doesn't seem to be burdened by it. So that is one of the greatest examples of love I've actually seen. I mean, I've done lots of stories about, you know, love stories over the years. That's a powerful one. And it is because of their faith - they are Christians - that she said that she felt she had no other choice, that there was no option, that that's what God is. That's what Jesus would have wanted.
NORRIS: Slight change of subject, but I have to ask you this. We're creeping up on the 2016 election season, reminded everyday when we turn on the radio or turn on the television or look at that small device. And you played such a seminal role in the 2008 election. I'm wondering if you see a role for yourself in this election cycle.
WINFREY: Nope, I do not see a role for myself in this election cycle. I've just decided to stay out of politics for now and watch and see what happens. I'm being highly entertained. I can say that.
NORRIS: So you're not planning to make any endorsements this time around, although I bet people are probably calling you all the time.
WINFREY: People call me all the time, but I'm not planning on making any endorsements.
INSKEEP: And that's NPR's special correspondent Michele Norris speaking with Oprah. And by the way, we saw the full Oprah effect by the end of the day yesterday. Weight Watchers' stock closed up 105 percent.
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