Why Oprah Decided to Start Her OWN Network
OW: I have never felt such fear in all my life. When it struck me that, Okay, this is what I'm really gonna do, I walked myself through the process of, Is this my ego that wants a network? Because ego can't create shows, and ego can't stay up late at night, and ego can't be giving up your Saturdays and your weekends....
SC: Ego doesn't roll up its sleeves.
OW: Ego doesn't roll up its sleeves. If you just want your name on a channel and you just want to look at a pretty logo, get yourself some stationery and call it a day! So I literally sat down with myself and went through my journals and the process of, Why are you doing it? Would you do it if your name wasn't on it, if you got no credit whatsoever for doing it, and nobody ever knew that you were involved with it? I lived with that for a while. And the answer was, yeah, I would still want to create that kind of programming—I would like for people to have that space to go to. A breathing space—where you knew that something would always be there to fill you. Then I went through how hard it was going to be; I went through, What else do you have to prove? What about all the things you wanted to do? You could learn a new language! You could go to Spain! You could go to a little village where nobody knew you. You could find a little cottage in France and bicycle with your baguettes in your little basket every day. I thought about that! I thought about building a boat and sailing around the world—I thought about that. I thought about going to my mountain in Maui and becoming an organic farmer—I thought about that. And Stedman and Bob [Greene] and Gayle—you know, that's my kitchen cabinet—all said to me: You'd be happy doing that for about two weeks. Stedman said, "I'd like to see you in a village, bicycling. That'd be fun about two times." Because I've never really had a long time off.
SC: In your entire working life?
OW: I have never had an extended vacation where I wasn't conscious of the clock always ticking. I have commitments and responsibilities, and that weighs very heavily on me. I've said this before, but there's a beautiful line in the movie Beloved when the slave master comes back to get Sethe, and she is explaining to Paul D that she had 28 days of freedom, and on the 29th day it was over. "Twenty-eight days of a free life.... I'd wake up in the morning and decide for myself what to do with the day." Imagine that. That's my favorite definition of freedom: I get to decide for myself what to do with the day. I often think what it would be like for that character if she would have lived those 28 days knowing it was gonna be over.
SC: In a sense, your free time has never really been free.
OW: I celebrate the fact that I'm in a position where I do have such responsibility, but on the other hand, I don't get to call in sick. I'm not allowed to say, "I don't feel like it today, and I'm not 100 percent." There's been many a day when I wasn't, but that's when you gotta give 110. So there's a part of me that thought about just relaxing and doing nothing after the show ended. Then a couple of times I would wake up in the middle of the night clutching my chest.
SC: Was that feeling anxiety about deciding to do OWN instead?
OW: Anxiety like, Oh my God, this is coming down the track. Oh my God. Literally. Capital OMG. What have I done? So much responsibility. Then I would talk myself down and say, Okay, what is that all about? There was an underlying instinct that this was a divine opportunity and I had to separate the opportunity from my fear of it. And then I had to get very clear about exactly what I was afraid of. I was afraid of failing; I was afraid of what the press would say. I was afraid it wouldn't be what The Oprah Winfrey Show has been, and has meant, for all these years. I was afraid I wouldn't be as successful. I was afraid that, you know, it just might not work. What if it doesn't work? What if I want meaningful television and other people really just want The Real Housewives of New Jersey? And then it dawned on me: Well, that doesn't matter. What is my intention? For anybody who is thinking about taking a risk, you have to always come back to: What are your fundamental principles, what are your fundamental beliefs about yourself and your reason for doing whatever? So I thought, Well, if it doesn't work, that still doesn't take away the reason I wanted to do it. I learned a huge lesson with Beloved, which was not successful at the box office but was a great life teacher for me. I went into a real depression after Beloved—a real depression.
SC: As a result of the experience being over, or as a result of how the film did?