In 1992, Oprah Winfrey talked about starting a cable network. She and companion Stedman Graham supposedly said that was a good idea considering "the state of trash TV". Of course, anyone with syndie talk memory knows that some original episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" syndicated series in the late '80s dipped into this pool of content.
Okay, give Winfrey and all her producers credit for moving into life-affirming programming. Her syndicated show offered "positive" life-affirming TV -- and still got big ratings. Applaud and bow, for all of us are not so worthy.
But for a network, the question is how to stretch the soup. OWN can't simply extrapolate the one-hour themes from the syndicated show to content across 24 hours of programming a day. That's a lot of ratings points to fill. Perhaps some focus is needed. Maybe three to four hours a day -- perhaps late afternoon/primetime -- needs to shine first. As with anything on cable, one hit can change a network's life.
All this needs to compete with a broad palate of other programming on cable -- "Keeping up with the Kardashians," "Jersey Shore," NFL games, "Burn Notice," "Pawn Stars," "Hot in Cleveland," "Top Chef," and Bill O'Reilly, for example.
Life-affirming shows should be able to squeeze into this eclectic mix of content. But it had better be real good -- perhaps with a strong personality. Know anyone?
With all their media choices, consumers don't always have a lot of time to decide. So a quick mention of an Oprah Winfrey network probably yields this response: "I want to see a lot of Oprah Winfrey." Life-affirming stuff here? Sure. But -- up until now -- it has been Winfrey herself who has needed to deliver this in some form. She has my attention and complete trust.
The question is how to transfer this to other personalities and shows. Hey, if ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" can play in this field, there must be room for more.
OWN is barely getting the ratings of the network it took over from: Discovery Health. That's not good considering some $250 million has been invested in the network so far. OWN is a partnership of Discovery Communications and Harpo Studios.
OWN has been on the air four months; that isn't a long time. No matter. There are a lot of nervous executives on the channel's board of directors. Better still, are advertisers squirming? The executive change comes just before the big upfront advertising market. Perhaps a message is being sent.
Liguori says there needs to be more "joy" at OWN in terms of programming sentiment. That would seem to suggest there currently exists a good hunk of sadness and melancholy. OWN needs to own the ups and downs before it moves on.