Oprah Winfrey has been chosen by Variety Magazine for their ‘Power of Women’ issue. 61-year-old media mogul thrives on now: getting to choose how she wants to spend the hours that lay in front of her.
Read excerpts below.
Ever since her eponymous talk show ended in 2011, she’s found what she calls “real freedom.”
“I love the way my life has opened up,” she tells Variety, in her sun-drenched, spacious office at OWN, her self-named cable network, in West Hollywood. “My definition of real freedom comes from the movie ‘Beloved,’ where the character Sethe that I played says, ‘Freedom is waking up in the morning and deciding for yourself what to do with the day.’ Imagine that.”
The launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2011 was by all accounts a rocky one. Losses mounted as viewers rejected the relentlessly feel-good programming, amid Winfrey’s noted absence from the airwaves. But the turnaround at the cable channel — which is owned jointly by Harpo Prods. and Discovery — was triggered by a deal struck with Tyler Perry in October 2012. Bringing his scripted series to OWN sparked double-digit ratings growth; the recent finale of “The Have and the Have Nots” led the network to its most-watched night ever (with 3.7 million viewers overall, it was the No. 1 cable show of the night).
Winfrey recounts running into mega-producer Lorne Michaels recently at a party; he’d warned her that launching a programming hub wasn’t going to be easy. She remembers telling him, “I didn’t believe it when you told me it was going to take three to five years to get a network on its legs.” His reply: “I could see you didn’t know what you didn’t know.”
The problem, she admits, was finding the audience, which had always come so naturally to her. “This isn’t the same audience that was the ‘Oprah’ show audience,” she says. “I knew that audience like my own breath. I grew up with that audience.”
Now when it comes to choosing what projects she’ll put on the air, she has a simple rule, which she learned from Gary Zukav’s book “The Seat of the Soul.”
“I had the biggest ‘aha’ moment of my life when I read what he had to say about intention,” she says. “What is the thing that you really intend? Because that is going to determine what actually happens.”
As a talk show host, she says, her job was to connect ideas to people — “so they could see themselves and expand their view of themselves. That was my specific intention.”
Now, as the head of a network — alongside co-presidents Erik Logan and Sheri Salata — she says, “I am intentionally trying to create programming that lets people see the best of themselves. Sometimes you show them the worst of themselves in order to see the best of themselves. It’s not that I won’t do anything that’s negative, but I won’t do anything that’s negative that doesn’t have a deeper meaning.”
She used her own money to fund “Belief,” a seven-part documentary series about faith around the world, which debuts Oct. 18. Producers spent three years criss-crossing the globe in search of affecting spiritual stories — from a 13-year-old preparing for his bar mitzvah in a small town in Hungary, to a woman in Kansas who visits her son’s killer in prison, seeking to find within herself the spirit of forgiveness.
For Winfrey, it’s a true passion project. “You see how we’re connected,” she says. “If you’ve got half a brain and a piece of heart, you can figure it out.”
She’s also now focused on filling the scripted lineup at OWN with more than just Perry’s shows: She’ll exec produce and recur in the drama series “Greenleaf” from writer-producer Craig Wright (“Lost,” “Six Feet Under”) about a family’s sprawling Memphis megachurch; Oscar winner Octavia Spencer headlines the net’s first miniseries, “Tulsa,” about the little-known race riots in Oklahoma in 1921.
|“It’s not that I won’t do anything that’s negative, but I won’t do anything that’s negative that doesn’t have a deeper meaning.”|
And then there’s “Queen Sugar,” a series she’s developing with Ava DuVernay, based on the book by Natalie Baszile about a woman and her teenage daughter who leave their upscale Los Angeles life to claim the inheritance of a Louisiana sugar cane farm.
Winfrey’s intention: to create shows “where you see people of color in the ways you see yourself, no matter what color you are.”
Growing up, she loved “The Andy Griffith Show,” she says. “I just couldn’t figure out why there never was a black person in Mayberry. What I really wanted was programming that let me see myself in a way that I felt normal.”
For as much ground as her talk show broke, she explains, “I always understood that you are better off doing a show on parenting with a black father and showing that father putting his two daughters to bed and reading to them, then you are doing a show about black parenting,” she says. “That’s how you break down barriers.”
The day producer Winfrey, director DuVernay and star David Oyelowo wrapped on the Oscar-nominated film “Selma,” about Martin Luther King Jr., was just a beginning. That trinity has become something of a creative cauldron, with a constant exchange of ideas, inspiration and advice (it’s not hard to imagine who’s offering it).
“There’s quite bit of a freedom and nurturing of an artists’ vision,” says DuVernay of working at OWN. “Once more scripted material gets out on air, it will become one of those places like HBO. It comes from the top down, and it’s good to have a good top.”
You can read up her full feature here.
Photo Credit: Variety Magazine