Open Mic

Hey Oprah, the Scripts You Need Most to Be Reading Are Not About Putting You in a Broadway Play

Arthur Sando Posted May 20, 2011 at 5:51 AM

[Editor's Note: This commentary first appeared on Jeff Grimshaw's The TV News, which can be found at www.thetvnews.tv, and we appreciate Jeff letting us reprint it.]

I was privileged to run the PR Department at King World for almost a decade, so I had the good fortune of getting a close-up view of the extraordinary person that is Oprah Winfrey.

She can move mountains, and I think she’s going to have to do it again, this time moving her mountain of fans from her syndicated show to her network.

It’s been a bumpy ride for the Oprah Winfrey Network. There’s been continuing turnover in the executive ranks, and there have been limited programming successes. But, because of the enormous goodwill Oprah has generated over the years and the tremendous influence she wields, OWN will have a unique opportunity to relaunch this fall. With Oprah’s syndicated series gone, fans will be even more motivated to look for her network. And when they get there, I think they’re going to want to find Oprah with a significant on-screen presence.

Certainly, the announcement of "Oprah’s Next Chapter," starting later this year, is a big step in the right direction. But in recent days the messaging has been muddled. Two weeks ago, Oprah was quoted as saying, “With the final taping of the 'Oprah Winfrey Show' only a few weeks away, I will soon be able to devote my full energies to the Oprah Winfrey Network.”

Then, last week, USA Today wrote, “Despite the fact that she said her Oprah Winfrey Network requires more attention from her, Oprah also plans to head to the New York stage. Soon. ‘I have a stack of plays in my bag right now that I am reading,’ she said. ‘Yes, this is really going to happen. ... Life is too short.’”

Well, we know that Oprah can multitask, but with viewers, distributors and advertisers hoping for better days ahead at OWN, I don’t think that’s the best positioning for the network right now.

Clearly, with Discovery’s Peter Liguori taking the helm, there’s great optimism the network will improve, and that should take some of the pressure off Oprah. Four new shows are launching in June, and Rosie O’Donnell starts in September.

But it still is the Oprah Winfrey Network, so the PR challenge for the foreseeable future is that a clear and consistent message should emphasize that OWN is Oprah’s top priority, and, come this fall, she’s going to be there in a big, big way, no matter what else might be on her agenda.#