While slowly winding down the year-long goodbye as America’s queen of the afternoon, Oprah Winfrey is a now moving at warp speed to get her next house in order. After a disappointing launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network, she’s finally said out loud what a few of us were brave to say from the beginning: it’s just not good enough.

I remember writing my first blog about OWN last January 7th. It began:

“When Oprah Winfrey first announced the creation of OWN, she revealed she had once written in her journal “that one day I would create a television network, as I always felt my show was just the beginning of what the future could hold.”

Well, three years and $168 million later, we have now seen the future, and it is — extremely disappointing.”

I couldn’t understand how this happened, given the OWN brain trust, with not just Oprah Winfrey but now the amazing Tom Freston who, despite other claims of paternity, actually is the real father of MTV.

After waiting, then hoping, then watching, I pronounced OWN “a stodgy old bore.”

Early reactions to my daily Xpress post were hilarious.

  • You are a brave woman… I would love to come visit you someday soon.. But I’d like to have a bomb squad check it out for me before I drive up!!! (feel free to delete this message…old Mission Impossible style…)
  • Shelley Ross hahahaha, you think it’s a little too strong? Am I alone in wanting OWN to be something more?
  • See this image of me, looking away, while whistling, and thumbing through O magazine…
  • ‎(ps…Careful of those bridges on the Merritt Parkway for a while..)
  • I say you and I take over and help Oprah own her Own… I have LOTS of ideas…
  • I have to join the chorus of Shelley worshippers. Is that even a word? In Oprah’s world it is but in the real world? This is your best daily Xpress so far.

I suspect the reference to “Shelley worshippers” was a play on Oprah’s audience. But, just below the surface in all those comments, perhaps a nod to the “The Emperor’s New Clothing.” Were people afraid to say things around the OWN offices like, “Hey, phone call for you, it’s 1978. They want their graphics department back.”

It’s not just the graphics. Where’s the signature music sting for OWN? Graphics and music, to me, are two key elements which provide the most important subliminal messages for channel surfers.


I can remember the first time I ever watched Saturday Night Live. The bumpers alone made me feel like someone had taken over the network while the executives/grown-ups were sleeping.

I can remember the launch of MTV. The animation, the network i.d.s, the pacing, the sheer explosion of creativity, the visuals and sound. It was fun just to stare at for hours, then days and weeks and they morphed, grew, and added on.

I think Syfy Channel should feel spooky as soon as you turn it on. ESPN should make you want to crack open a beer. E! should feel like a feather boa.

OWN? It makes you want to run to Costco to buy a case of feminine hygiene deodorant spray.

So quick, call Judy McGrath who grew up at MTV and in the first decade hired young graphic artists who would have paid her to be a part of the “revolution.” With them, she refined the look, then took the MTV experience to next few levels. She knows what I’m talking about.


At the heart, of course, is the programming. It’s important that OWN is becoming a destination for some really great documentaries such as the one that’s going to air tomorrow night on Chaz Bono. It’s certainly a noble part of the OWN launch. But great documentaries will always find a home.

The answer seems fairly simple, even obvious to me, especially with the Oprah brand so clearly established. Yes, viewers can find a better, more purposeful life through television, but not without exciting new shows. And don’t forget the interstitials… you can make a difference on every inch of your real estate.

Why not grow your audience online, where most people under thirty go for news and information. If it’s too hard to find Channel 161 on the dial, help us find it on our laptops. And let’s make it all interactive while we’re there. Not just asking “tell us what you think,” but “weigh in with us immediately.”

Master class? I’m not watching OWN, I’m watching the TED conferences online. Sorry, but I’ve heard about Diane’s “curiosity” and Maya’s “mutism” for 20 years. Last night, I curled up and watched a TED lecture by Eric Whitacre who created a virtual choir from 2,000 voices around the world, no two in the same room. It’s 15 minutes long. I plan to watch it again. But, oh, I want to watch the Warhorse puppeteers again first. Yikes, there are 900 lectures to watch.

I’m thinking, there are at least 10 good ways to re-invent Gayle’s morning show. And in the afternoon? Whoever tries to copy the Oprah show as seen for the past 25 years in syndication is a fool. Not just because they’ll never do as well (they won’t,) but because the next person needs to grab the next generation by its conscience and take them through a different journey for a different time.

This month, when Oprah walks off her Chicago Harpo stage for the last time, she can show by example that when one door closes another opens. And when she clears the OWN shelves of the same old same old, she’ll show how one makes room for the sunshine, the fresh ideas and sparkles of re-invention, something that’s been her hallmark all along.