The small but devoted group of followers of Discovery Health Channel have long looked to it for the inherent drama in series such as "Babies: Special Delivery," "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant," "Birth Day," "Adoption Stories" and "Deliver Me."
The birth set for noon Saturday - 1/1/11 - looks to be as gripping as any of them, for delivery of this long-anticipated baby is destined to claim a casualty: Discovery Health will die, so that OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network shall live.
Momentous as this may prove to be, it will be a low-key occasion by Oprah standards, offering little to rattle those still feeling the aftereffects of New Year's Eve. There will be no street closures, no concert, no prizes or surprises to send the faithful into paroxysms of unbridled euphoria.
The restraint is justified. Even Oprah's newborn - a 50/50 venture of Winfrey's Harpo and Discovery Communications - has to crawl before it walks, never mind running in a crowded field.
For one thing, Winfrey may have thrilled loyal fans of her Chicago-based daytime talk show, which ends its 25-year run this season, by unexpectedly taking some of them to Australia this month. With OWN, available in more than 80 million homes at launch whether the people in those homes know it or not, she is sending them to their channel guides.
One of the first OWN shows will be "Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star." Of greater urgency is the search for OWN on your local system. Is it on 279? Maybe. How about 154? 256? 189? 220? Check local listings, as they say.
People make jokes about how Winfrey is a regular cover model on O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, a name that also pounds home the point, but she makes it impossible for followers to forget that the mag is hers. By comparison, Winfrey has had "Oprah & Friends," her own satellite radio channel, since 2006. Ever hear it? Ever hear others talking about it? If the answer is no, one reason is that it's actually far more "& Friends" than "Oprah."
In OWN's first year or so, Winfrey herself will be devoting her energy primarily to winding down her daytime juggernaut.
There initially will be an OWN documentary series recording the behind-the-scenes choreography behind the end of the broadcast show. Winfrey also is fronting a potentially interesting - but, if not properly edited, potentially windy - "Master Class" series of interviews in which people such as Jay-Z, Condoleezza Rice, Simon Cowell and Diane Sawyer talk about what got them where they are, what drives and what inspires them.
As with "Oprah & Friends," her sensibilities inform OWN's programming. But that programming must compete for viewers on its own merits, whether it's advice from Chicago sexpert Dr. Laura Berman, reporter Lisa Ling's in-depth look at various aspects of American life or a show in which kids get to lasso their workaholic parents and make them reconnect with their families.
Gayle King, Oprah's Best Friend®, will have her OWN show. So will Cristina Ferrare. There will be reruns of Dr. Phil McGraw's "Dr. Phil" broadcast program and panel discussions featuring other hosts whose careers Winfrey has boosted over the years. Rosie O'Donnell is set to come aboard in the fall.
A few Discovery Health shows will survive on OWN, but "Dr. G: Medical Examiner" doesn't look to be one of them, not that it takes an expert to determine what killed the old channel.
Discovery Health is said to get around 7 cents per household per month from cable carriers. The current thinking is that in the next few years Winfrey and Discovery may be able to wring roughly three times that if OWN is a success.
Nothing truly gives a network an identity like distinctive, well-received and/or popular shows. AMC was the channel that long ago showed American classic movies; now it's known as the home of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," even though neither has a huge audience. Sure, everyone knows who Oprah is. But everyone knows what the USA is and, still, what defines USA Network is programming such as "Burn Notice" and pro wrestling.
Fail to emerge from the pack and a channel's fate is sealed. Discovery Health is about to join the likes of Financial News Network, CBS Cable, CNN Sports Illustrated, Satellite News Channel and America's Talking in the great cable box beyond.