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Oprah Debuts OWN Network

TelevisionOWN (tv network)Talk Shows (genre)Satellite and Cable ServiceBookPaul McCartney

LOS ANGELES -- Oprah Winfrey wants to better the world inher own way, and that absolutely, positively excludes a politicalcareer.

The media powerhouse who threw her clout behind Barack Obama'spresidential candidacy says she will never seek office. As shefervently asserts: "Arrgghhh! The very idea of politics. No, no,no, no, no, no, no, no."

But a new, basic cable channel that bears her name and debuts atnoon EST Saturday to 85 million homes across the land? That's achallenge she relishes as her syndicated talk show nears itsconclusion after a singularly influential run of 25 years.

Politics is "having to live your life at the whim of somebody'spolls," Winfrey said in an interview from her home near SantaBarbara. "I just feel like there's so much more ability for me,personally, to be able to effect change and to be able to influencethrough stories and ideas than I could ever do with politics."

She hopes to see the Oprah Winfrey Network - OWN - establishitself as a "force for good," a platform that helps people "seethe best of themselves" on a broader canvas than her dailyChicago-based talk show.

With the Los Angeles-based OWN, as well as orchestrating a bigfinish in May for " The Oprah Winfrey Show," the talk show hostsaid it's unlikely she'll have time for the Chicago mayoral bid of

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff. She andEmanuel haven't seen each other in town.

"It seems that everybody else in the world has run into Rahmexcept me," said Winfrey. She offered that she signed a petitionto get his name on the February ballot when she was approachedoutside a Chicago gym.

As for Obama, Winfrey remains a steadfast booster.

"He's doing a great job, and I don't use the term 'great'loosely," she said. "The amount of pressure and opinions comingat him from every direction, to be steadfast and solid in your ownconviction about how you see this country and what you believe ispossible for the future of this country. I think that takes a lotof guts."

When Obama presumably seeks a second term in 2012, "I would dowhatever they ask me to do. I'm open," she said.

Winfrey, who caught flack from some fans for endorsing Obama forthe Democratic nomination, said she hasn't thought about how thecable channel over which she presides as chairman might figure inthe national election.

"I'm really just trying to get on the air," she said, lightly."I'm trying to think of the role OWN is going to play on Jan. 2,and the 3rd and the 4th."

A pop culture force with a daytime podium that at its peakattracted more than 12 million viewers (it's at nearly 7 millionthis season), Winfrey has created careers and successful TV shows(" Dr. Phil," "Dr. Oz"), energized the publishing industry withher book club picks and produced distinguished films ( "Precious,""The Great Debaters"), breaking ethnic stereotypes along the way.

The 56-year-old Oprah is acutely aware of what she might belosing even as she stakes out new TV turf to promote ideas andcelebrities. She was initially reluctant to surrender her daytimeshow, but "what I realized is the `Oprah' show has had its timeand its run and its ability to affect and influence, and that nowit's time for something else," she said.

Rosie O'Donnell, Shania Twain, Sarah Ferguson and Winfrey'sclose pal, Gayle King, all have first-season shows on thecommercially-supported OWN, which will offer a varied mix of talkand reality shows, film acquisitions and original documentaries.Included in the lineup: a cooking series with Cristina Ferrare, asex advice show with Dr. Laura Berman, style makeovers with CarsonKressley, a series about the mother-daughter relationship of Naomiand Wynonna Judd, a "docu-reality" series about women prisonersin Indiana and the theatrical release "Precious."

Winfrey's hand is on the entire schedule but she'll also beonstage in such series as "Oprah's Next Chapter," in which shetravels the world in search of interesting stories, and "Season25: Oprah Behind the Scenes," a chronicle of her final talk showyear. She will also be seen in the series "Oprah Presents MasterClass" and "Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star."

OWN will be programmed around the clock, with repeats fillingovernight hours.

On the cusp of her new media adventure, a Harpo Inc. jointventure with Discovery Communications (which has a reported $189million commitment to the channel), Winfrey said she has shed anyworries she had as OWN experienced an uneven and delayed gestation.

The channel starts with a modest base, taking over DiscoveryHealth and its average 250,000 daily viewers. Among cable channels,heavyweights such as ESPN and USA average about 3 millionprime-time viewers.

"I'm not afraid at all. I talked to my friend Gayle thismorning and she goes, `You sure are calm for a girl who's going tolaunch a network,"' Winfrey recounted, then explained herapproach: "It's like preparing to run a marathon and then the weekbefore you run, you have to relax yourself in order to be able totake on the run."

Winfrey was at times serene as she talked about OWN and politics- and downright playful. Asked if she had talked to Obama recently,she took on a mock tone of hauteur.

"Well, as a matter of fact, the last time I spoke to him I wasat the Kennedy Center Honors," Winfrey responded. But she droppedthe Ms. Cool act as she giddily recalled being celebrated alongsidea musician she adored as a girl: Paul McCartney. The two, sittingside-by-side during the ceremony earlier this month, ended upclasping hands.

When she and the former Beatle joined in on the chorus of "HeyJude," Winfrey lost it.

"I was weeping, but weeping because I could feel the moment ofmyself as the 12-year-old girl on welfare in the ghetto ofMilwaukee, Wis., having that dream and never imagining that thedream would take me to the balcony of the Kennedy Center holdingPaul McCartney's hand. Is that unbelievable or what?"

Late this week, Winfrey visited OWN's L.A. offices for a finalrally-the-troops meeting.

Then it's up to viewers who have so often approved what Winfreygives them. She hopes they're patient as OWN finds its footing.

"This is the beginning, and the beginning of a greatopportunity to use television for purposeful programming, which isthe only reason I'm doing it," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun