Oprah Winfrey, the first black woman to appear on Forbes' billionaire list, is the ultimate multimedia icon.
She and her eponymous television program won scores of Emmy awards. In 1986, Ms. Winfrey was nominated for an Oscar after her film debut in "The Color Purple" and two years later she founded Harpo Productions. In 2000, she launched "O," a top-selling magazine in which she appears on every cover. Her book club guarantees best-seller status for its selections.
Ms. Winfrey then made history by ending her blockbuster, one-hour talk fest, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and starting her own cable channel, OWN, short for the Oprah Winfrey Network, that will speak for her 24 hours a day. OWN went live to about 80 million households on Jan. 1, 2011, and its success hinges on fans being able to track down Ms. Winfrey on the upper reaches of the cable dial.
The last episode of her network show, televised on May 25, was described as the biggest moment in television since Johnny Carson quit “The Tonight Show” two decades ago. Yet Ms. Winfrey took her final bow by holding back. “There will be no makeovers, no surprises — really, no surprises,” she told her studio audience. “You will not be getting a car or a tree. This last hour is really about me saying ‘thank you.’ ”
Ms. Winfrey’s move from broadcast to cable has been a transformative moment for the television business, marking the first time a talk-show host has taken over an entire channel. The stakes couldn’t be higher for her and the coterie of television veterans that has assembled around her. For someone who has enjoyed outsize victories in almost every venture she has pursued, OWN will be the ultimate test of her power. Her goal is to build a bigger business, but the channel's early ratings so far have been disappointing.
The television critic of The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley, described OWN's debut weekend this way: "Oprah Winfrey said that she wanted to create a cable network without a trace of “mean-spirited” programming, and she has wrung every drop of it from the Oprah Winfrey Network. "OWN is a place where cynicism takes a holiday and mockery hasn’t yet been invented."