The good news: Oprah Behind the Scenes on OWN is exactly what it set out to be — an unfailingly honest and entertaining look at the making of The Oprah Show as it winds down its historic 25-year run in syndication. Now, the bad news: It can’t turn the fledgling network into an overnight success (the network just tossed out its CEO, Christina Norman). EW sat down with Winfrey at Harpo’s headquarters in Chicago, Ill., to talk about Behind the Scenes, how she comes across in the show, and whether she has any regrets about launching OWN while still doing her talk show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Oprah Behind the Scenes is addictive.
OPRAH WINFREY: I wish more people were addicted to it! It’s getting better, though a lot of people still don’t know where to find it and how to find it. We just moved it to Sundays. It gives an accurate presentation of the surface of who we are, and people get an idea of what it takes to put these shows together. It doesn’t even begin to touch the nerve of who we really are. What’s really missing is how hard everybody works and the long hours that people put in, the sacrifices they have made with their families, and the depth of absolute passion.
How did it evolve?
It was my idea to do it. Originally, it was proposed to me to do it like Madonna: Truth or Dare, to do it as a film documentary piece. I did not feel like my audience, who supported me for 25 years on TV, wanted to then pay to go to the theater to watch a documentary. The idea of doing it as a TV series fulfilled two purposes — we needed programming for OWN, and it was a way to document the last season. It felt like a perfect idea.
One thing we don’t see on BTS is how much time you give to the Oprah Winfrey Network.
I feel like I have not begun to give anything to OWN. I was on the phone yesterday with the head of OWN probably for 20 minutes, and then I was on another phone call for an hour, so I probably gave OWN an hour and 20 minutes yesterday. Not enough. Not enough. And I hadn’t talked to anybody for two or three days there. Doing this right and ending [Oprah] this way is a full-time job. And the magazine is a full-time job, but that’s its own machine now. I don’t have to do a lot with that anymore. But I still have to check in, approve things. I wouldn’t even say 10 percent of my time is on OWN right now. But it will be. [After the end of Oprah] I can start to give my attention to OWN that it deserves. It’s going to improve exponentially with the amount of time and service I can give to it.
Do you regret launching OWN before your talk show ended?
I’ve thought maybe it would have been better to wait until this completely ended and then literally use [Oprah] as a launchpad. If I had it to do differently and had thought of that option, I might have considered that a priority. But I don’t spend a lot of time in the regret mode.
How do you feel about OWN’s performance so far?
It’s not where I want it to be. I had a wonderful conversation with Lorne Michaels at a dinner party. He said it’s going to take three years, not two. And I am going to have to pay my dues and will be in the midst of a learning curve. And when I think I’ve learned as much as I need to know, I’ll be hit with something else. Don’t judge OWN until after three years. So that’s exactly what I have thought in my own mind.
The perception is that you are a perfectionist. Did you mean for BTS to dispel any impressions that are out there about you?
I was not trying to dispel anything. The only thing I’ve ever heard is how controlling I am. But that’s also not true. I want to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am about what they do, particularly if it comes to technology and computers, because I can’t get the damn TV on! I want them to do their jobs. And I want to give them the freedom and the allowance to do it as well as possible for themselves. And then I’m absolutely not in it until you come to tell me what the results are, and I will give you permission to execute that.
How do you think you’ve been portrayed on BTS?
On a camping episode, I had said to [supervising producer] Lisa Morin, when she came to me to want to redo something, I said, “You must be delusional if you think I’m going to do that.” If you know my personality, you know I’m not trying to humiliate anybody. That’s my way of saying, get the heck out of here, are you crazy or whatever? People thought I was really harsh in saying that. I didn’t mean it to be harsh. It was that moment.
Have you ever gone back to edit the way you came across in an episode?
Yes, for the Jennifer Hudson episode. That was a lot of high drama because we’ve never been stood up before. There were a lot of people saying a lot of things. Everybody was mad. I wanted to make sure that there was not one single thing in that episode that had anything to do with us being mad or upset in that moment. It was dramatic. Nobody has ever not shown up, ever. Especially if they were here the night before.
One of the great things about this show is how you appear without makeup.
I’ve taken that to an all-time low, Oh my God. Jesus, I need a little vanity. I’m not asking for vanity fair, but just a little. The camping trip was an all-time low for makeup and pajamas. I do think I could have had nicer pajamas. The reason why it doesn’t completely make me feel like, God, I should improve myself is that people have seen me. They know I can pull it together. And in real life, people don’t have coordinated outfits. I don’t have coordinated outfits!
For more on Oprah Behind the Scenes, check out the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands today.
OWN replaces CEO