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Rosie's viewers top Oprah on OWN TV launch

O'Donnell answers a question during the OWN session for "The Rosie Show" at the 2011 Summer Television Critics Association Cable Press Tour
O'Donnell answers a question during the OWN session for "The Rosie Show" at the 2011 Summer Television Critics Association Cable Press Tour

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rosie O'Donnell beat talk show queen Oprah Winfrey on Winfrey's OWN channel, according to viewership figures on Tuesday, as the fledgling cable network launched its new fall season to mixed reviews.

The debut on Monday of "The Rosie Show' -- a mixture of chat with first guest Russell Brand, games and music -- was seen by 497,000 viewers on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

But thousands of viewers turned channels when it came to Winfrey's new show "Oprah's Lifeclass" -- in which she shares insights, lessons and old clips from 25 years of "The Oprah Winfrey Show". Ratings data showed 330,000 Americans watched that show's debut.

Both new series also were aired across five other cable channels operated by OWN's partner, Discovery Communications Inc, reaching a combined total audience of 1.5 million and 1.2 million, respectively.

OWN said audiences for each show were up more than 200 percent from those tuning in a year ago to the Discovery Health network, which OWN has now replaced.

But the numbers were far below the audiences that both O'Donnell and Winfrey, regarded as the most influential woman on U.S. television, used to draw on network television. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" had a regular audience of about 6.4 million U.S. viewers before it ended in May.

OWN president Erik Logan said that the new fall season was "off to an encouraging start. This is the next right step as we continue to build the network."

The two new programs kicked off the second season of OWN after its launch in January 2011 as lifestyle, female-oriented cable channel.

But early audiences soon began changing channels and by July, Winfrey announced she would takeover as CEO of OWN in a bid to refocus the channel's direction and put more of herself on screen.

O'Donnell's new daily evening show marks the return to the TV talk format of the controversial comedian after her Emmy-winning program of the 1990s and a brief stint as co-host on "The View".

But some reviews were as lukewarm as the ratings. The Hollywood Reporter said the show was "ramshackle" and "a little crazy" but called it interesting to watch.

Variety called it "curiously flat and understated", while the Los Angeles Times said "The Rosie Show" had a "not-bad, pretty good, kinda funny, sort of smart debut."

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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