TORONTO - Oprah Winfrey's travelling roadshow of dreamboards, mantras and spiritual reflection lands north of the border Monday as the embattled media maven rallies her hardcore Canuck fans.
The arrival of "Oprah's Lifeclass: The Tour" promises to share inspiring life lessons that have guided Winfrey herself, even as the daytime doyenne wrestles with ongoing questions over whether she can rescue her struggling specialty channel, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, from dismal ratings.
The fate of Winfrey's faltering channel is an ongoing question after a slew of upheavals rattled OWN to the core. In recent weeks, staff was slashed, back offices were restructured and Rosie O'Donnell's talk show was cancelled.
Since then, its beleaguered CEO has come out fighting. Winfrey announced a batch of new prime time series meant to invigorate viewership and has hit the road to do what she does best — talk.
And her Canuck following is listening.
Tickets for "Lifeclass" — also a TV series that will broadcast a Toronto show Monday on OWN — sold out in minutes, spurring organizers to add an early morning show that also sold out quickly.
Last week, online resellers offered tickets ranging in price from $100 to $1,599 each, depending on proximity to the spiritual guru known for encouraging viewers to "live your best life."
And although the Canuck version of OWN has struggled to connect with northern audiences, the channel's Canadian boss predicted Winfrey's commitment to boost her profile — both with the tour and more TV appearances — would turn things around.
"It's going to take us some time. As you know, that network started off slowly but it's gaining momentum," said John Cassaday, CEO of Corus Entertainment, which runs OWN Canada.
"We're not getting the initial return on that investment that we had hoped for but we continue to be optimistic about that."
In an analyst call last week, Cassaday noted there are now three prime time OWN series featuring Winfrey — "Oprah's Next Chapter," "Oprah's Master Class" and "Oprah's Lifeclass."
"This will continue to build audiences for OWN in Canada," he said, an oblique reference to early criticism the network didn't feature enough of Winfrey.
Winfrey's hardcore Canuck fans appear determined to make OWN Canada a success.
A fansite dedicated to the channel, CanadasOwnViewers.com, vows to "grow OWN Canada one Viewer at a time."
"Oprah's life lessons resonated with me and encouraged me to give back to my Community," one of its founders, identified only as "Liz," declares on the site.
"She taught me that to be part of a Community you have to participate. She encouraged me to dream."
Back-to-back "Lifeclass" shows in Toronto on Monday appear geared to keeping that dream alive.
They feature a who's-who of high-profile visionaries, including motivational speaker Tony Robbins, spiritualist Deepak Chopra, spiritual advisor Bishop T.D. Jakes and inspirational author Iyanla Vanzant.
Vanzant helms the self-help program "Iyanla Fix My Life," one of several upcoming additions to the OWN lineup as Winfrey attempts to revamp the 15-month-old network.
Others include the reality show "Married to the Army: Alaska," about military wives; "Six Little McGhees" about a married couple and their sextuplets; "Elura and Michele Take Staten Island," about two former prosecutors; and the game show "Are You Normal America?" which asks contestants lively questions such as whether they look at their boyfriend's email or do chores naked.
Fresh material is a good step towards turning the tide at OWN, said TV analyst Brad Adgate, who suggested Winfrey find a breakout hit that doesn't revolve around herself.
Aside from OWN's Winfrey-led interview programs, few of the 15-month-old network's mix of reality and feel-good series have built solid audiences.
Adgate notes the network can only survive if shows that don't feature the mogul — i.e. the majority of the lineup — have followings, too.
"There's been a lot of trial-and-error in the network and I guess that's to be expected," said Adgate, an analyst at the New York-based advertising agency Horizon Media.
"It's not a slam dunk, launching a cable network. There's a lot of competition out there. There's a lot of competition going after the audience that Oprah has gone after pretty successfully."
Winfrey herself has said she created the network too soon. It launched as Winfrey taped demanding final episodes for her hugely successful syndicated daytime talk show, which ended last year after 25 years.
Had she known then what she knows now, things would be very different, she told "CBS This Morning" earlier this month.
Adgate said Winfrey's high-profile tour, which also taped episodes in St. Louis and New York, can only help strengthen her overall brand.
"She has a lot of magic with viewers and marketers and business associates and friends so I think that that's only going to be a positive step for the network," he said, crediting Winfrey with taking the bull by the horns.
"You can't fault her for trying."