May 16, 2021

Media Decoder: Oprah to Take Top Post at Her Network

Oprah Winfrey stood before cable company executives at an industry confab last month and admitted that the beginning of OWN, her cable channel, wasn’t going very well, in part because she had been focused on the end of her daytime talk show instead.

Now, she told them, she had “the ability to commit my full energy, feet first,” to the channel.

On Wednesday she did just that, naming herself the chief executive of OWN and effectively combining the Los Angeles-based channel with her Chicago-based production company, Harpo Studios, in attempt to reboot the channel, which has been burdened by low ratings in its first six months.

“This concept of mine, of one team, one mission, and one vision is about to become a day-to-day reality,” she wrote in an e-mail message to staffers at OWN and Harpo on Wednesday morning.

Erik Logan and Sheri Salata, the presidents of Harpo Studios, will immediately become the presidents of OWN, too. Then, in the fall, Ms. Winfrey will take over as chief executive.

She will also take the title chief creative officer, which was originally held by Lisa Erspamer, one of her top lieutenants. And she will remain the chairman of OWN, which is a joint venture between Harpo and Discovery Communications.

Ms. Winfrey’s consolidation of power suggests that she will be much more involved in the day-to-day decisions of the channel, something that executives at Discovery and television critics have appealed for.

It is another shift in the leadership structure at OWN, where just two months ago Ms. Winfrey and the other members of the OWN board dismissed Christina Norman, who had led the channel before and after it had its debut. The board installed Peter Liguori, the chief operating officer of Discovery, as the interim chief executive, and people close to Mr. Liguori said at the time that he expected to be in the job for a year or more.

That changed last month, when Ms. Winfrey took a long-planned vacation in Europe and Africa after the May 24 finale of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” At the cable industry conference in Chicago on June 16, she affirmed her commitment to OWN; the next day, she participated in a marathon meeting with members of the OWN board about the direction of the channel.

One participant said the meeting lasted 14 hours. By the end of the month, she had decided that she should become the channel’s chief executive. The OWN board had not started to search for a permanent chief yet.

In a letter to her fans on Facebook on Wednesday, Ms. Winfrey did not mention her new chief executive title, but she did say that “as of today,” her team at Harpo and her team at OWN “become one.” In the letter she described a swimming lesson that reminded her to “move with the flow,” adding, “Don’t fight the current. Resist nothing. Let life carry you. Don’t try to carry it.”

The presidents of OWN, Mr. Logan and Ms. Salata, who are well-known to viewers of “Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes,” a reality show on OWN about the making of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” will report to Ms. Winfrey. Mr. Logan will work out of OWN’s Los Angeles office and travel to Harpo’s Chicago office regularly; Ms. Salata will do the opposite.

“I have no doubt that we will all be in lock step in a very short time,” Ms. Winfrey wrote to her staffers Wednesday. She added, “We are in this boat together in a very real way now. And I will put my brand and my future on the line because I know this ONE team — OWN/Harpo — is the boat I want to be in.”

Mr. Liguori will remain the interim chief executive until Ms. Winfrey takes over in the fall. Ms. Erspamer will continue at OWN as the executive vice president of production and development.

Significantly for OWN, the channel says that all of Harpo’s future television projects “will be directed exclusively to OWN.” Harpo is already producing several shows for OWN, including “Oprah Presents Master Class” and “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman.”

The channel may also wind up with more programming starring Ms. Winfrey, who is only contractually obligated to appear in 70 telecasts a year. (In lieu of a five-days-a-week talk show like the one Ms. Winfrey hosted in syndication for 25 years, she is planning to host a show called “Oprah’s Next Chapter” that will appear on OWN two or three times a week. “Oprah’s Next Chapter” is set to start in January.)

Ms. Winfrey, who declined an interview request Wednesday, indicated in her Facebook message that Oct. 10 would be a restart of sorts for OWN. On that day, repeat episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will start being shown.

Ms. Winfrey said she was redesigning the shows “into the 100 best lessons I’ve learned about everything that can help you live a better life.” Also that day, a new daytime talk show hosted by Rosie O’Donnell will start on OWN.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d649e2c8cd29c470de4e174b440a2931

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