Oprah Winfrey is investing with some big names in TV in a new cable channel targeted at women. Joining Winfrey and her Harpo Entertainment Group are Geraldine Laybourne, ex-president of Nickelodeon and founder of Oxygen Media, plus Roseanne producers Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, and Caryn Mandabach. Other backers include America Online and ABC.

Winfrey, who will help create new programming, wouldn't comment. But with her name, the team can "build our brand immediately," says Laybourne. "There is no source who knows what women want and need more than Oprah." Tele-Communications Inc. will carry the channel to 7 million subscribers; Laybourne aims for 20 million by launch.

Have people overdosed on Oprah lately? Her movie, Beloved, did poorly at the box office, and her talk-show ratings are down from last spring. "I think Oprah should be the brains, not the face [behind Oxygen]," says consultant Simon Williams. Laybourne vows to avoid overexposure: "We will be very protective of the natural resource" known as Oprah.

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