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Give Oprah's Network Time to Grow

Oprah Winfrey has been quite candid about the mishaps her latest venture, the Oprah Winfrey Network, has endured since it’s admittedly premature launch last year. Speaking with Charlie Rose and longtime BFF Gayle King on CBS This Morning, Winfrey acknowledged not knowing as much as perhaps she should have before diving into the cable business. The former talk show deity added, "I didn't think it was going to be easy, but...if I knew then what I know now, I might have made different choices. If I were writing a book about it, I could call the book 101 Mistakes.” She added: “It's like, having the wedding when you know you're not ready. And you're walking down the aisle and you're saying, 'Oh, I don't know if we should be walking down the aisle.’”

That said, the OWN CEO also noted, "Actually, I feel better about our network now today than I ever have." That response was in reference to a question about the wave of negative press that has plagued OWN since it’s initial solid ratings at launch quickly plunged amid cries of bad programming or just programming that didn’t include enough of Oprah to keep viewers interested in the channel. 

While it’s great to see Oprah more comfortable with her channel and its future, I’ve been wondering for a while now why is so many are so vehemently supportive of a narrative about the purported failure of OWN despite the network’s life thus far being as lengthy as the same amount of time Rihanna keeps a hairstyle?

Has OWN been a runaway success? Evidently not judging from the cancellation of select programming and stories of layoffs. Does the network have its own unique identity? No, but aren’t we forgetting how long it typically takes for a network to find that and the success to go with it?

How long did it take FOX to become successful? Now ask that same question of Bravo, BET, Oxygen, VH1, E!, USA, TNT, and TBS. Also, isn’t there still talk of the CW ultimately not surviving on air haunting the station to this day? If Oprah herself said even before the start of OWN that it would take 3-5 years for the network to not only build a steady profit, but essentially find its way and make its mark, talk of Oprah’s grand failure with OWN shouldn’t have started only a few months after its start.

Oprah may enjoy a fan base that spans color, class, and in some cases gender, but the same cannot be said among media critics. Oprah’s show was #1 for more than two decades yet every so often there would be a piece asking if “the end of Oprah” was near. When Ricki Lake became popular; after Jerry Springer became a sensation; the year Rosie O’Donnell and later Ellen DeGeneres all scored hit daytime shows; once a few Hillary Clinton supporters publicly expressed how vexed they were after Oprah endorsed then Sen. Barack Obama for president.

All proved to be false premises and the same might prove true for OWN. Or not and OWN could be a repeat of Oprah’s failure with Oxygen. Whatever does happen, though, it will take a lot longer than a year for onlookers to find out. In the age of instant gratification, I believe we sometimes forget that not every end result presents itself when we want it to.

Some of these “What OWN needs to do articles?” are well intentioned, plenty not so much, but both forms of commentary are a wee bit premature and far too hypercritical of Oprah. I’m glad she was able to admit her mistakes thus far, but I hope she says nothing else of it for a good while. She shouldn’t have to.

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer currently based in Los Angeles. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick