Chuck Ross

What is Oprah–and the ABC O&Os That Carry Her Show–Going to Do?

Nov 6, 2009

[NOTE: I wrote this piece on 11/6, speculating about what Oprah might do. Last night she made her much anticipated announcement that she’ll be leaving her current show in Sept. 2011. Over the weekend, after hearing what Oprah has to say about her future on her show today (Friday, Nov. 20th), I will write another blog entry about the situation. Please check back for that on Monday morning.]

It’s quickly become Hollywood’s favorite parlor game and please, you’re invited to play. It’s all about Oprah.

Furthermore, it’s all about the ABC owned-and-operated TV stations in places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago that air her show and have made millions and millions off of it over the years. Of course they’ve paid millions as well, enriching the coffers of King World and then CBS Television Distribution and helping to make Oprah one of the richest people in the world.

What do YOU think she’s gonna do? What do you think she SHOULD do?

And what are those ABC stations going to do?

We’ve spoken to lots of folks in recent weeks and here are some interesting scenarios….

First, let’s assume that she will indeed not renew with CBS Television Distribution. Yes, she might renew with them, but we doubt it, and if she does we’d have nothing to talk about for the rest of this blog. Furthermore, clearly since the death of Roger King, Oprah’s not been as warm and cuddly with the company as she had been previously.

And few doubt that if Roger had not died that Oprah would have gone with Sony to launch the Dr. Oz show. So if Oprah is warm and cuddly with any syndicator right now, it’s with Steve Mosko and his Sony team.

Thus if Oprah is going to continue with any syndicator, a lot of the smart money is on Sony. The only way she continues with CBS would be through the charms and smarts of CBS topper Les Moonves, which are considerable. No one has ever gotten anywhere in the TV world in Hollywood by underestimating Moonves. Remember, he and his team were able to keep Letterman when most Hollywood wags thought for sure that Letterman would move to ABC.

Nikki Finke broke the story this week that Oprah will not renew with CBS and will move her talk shop to OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network she is starting with Discovery Communications.

In that report she says David Zaslav, who runs Discovery, gave Oprah an ultimatum. Now, we know David and I’m sure he’s not foolish enough to give Oprah ultimatums. Yes, clearly he must be somewhat frustrated about the delay of the launch of OWN, so let’s say it’s likely they’ve had earnest discussions.

Does Oprah just move her show lock, stock and barrel over to OWN? That sounds doubtful to us. If she’s done with it in its present form, she’s probably done with it. If not, we still see at least some syndication component. If she does a program for OWN, look for it to be somewhat different than the syndicated show she’s been doing for the past two and a half decades.

Now, what do the ABC stations do? On the first-run syndication front, Disney-ABC has not been very active of late in trying to launch any talk shows.

Interestingly, as a number of executives have mentioned to us, ABC has “The View.” What show would be better as a late afternoon lead-in to the local news on those ABC stations? We like that scenario a lot.

Or perhaps Oprah makes some deal, with her partner Sony, to eventually move Dr. Oz, which Oprah’s Harpo Productions has a stake of, into those ABC station time slots.

Of course other syndicators are also salivating at the prospect of those slots opening up. CBS would certainly love them for their new Nancy Grace show. Or that other queen of daytime, Judge Judy. Debmar-Mercury has Wendy Williams and other ideas as well, we’re sure.

And if Oprah does leave the syndicated airwaves, the ascension of Ellen Degeneres as syndication’s premier talk queen is almost assured. You just know Warner Bros. would love those ABC slots as well.

Well that’s some of what we hear and what we think. Let us know what YOU think is going to happen.#


  1. Well, she’s only “Oprah” as long as she has a huge pulpit from which to spread the Gospel of Oprah. Otherwise, she’s just a gazillionaire with a lot of time on her hands.
    So, while I believe that an “Oprah Winfrey Network” will have some Oprah on it, probably repeats of her show, OWN on it’s own is way too small a pulpit for her.
    My guess is that she’ll go with Sony in syndication, but will try to stay on the stations that have stayed with her.
    I do believe her to be a benevolent Oprah.

  2. Two and a half decades? Is that like 25 years or maybe a quarter of a century? By the way, whatever happened to Phil Donahue?

  3. Well clearly everyone else will want to cut their cost of programming the 10pm-11pm hour so the only answer would be for ABC to run a Monday-Friday strip of Oprah in Primetime next season! The death of the sitcom and drama on network TV is imminent.

  4. We run Oprah on our CBS station in Denver – but I cannot imagine anyone starting their own network and not giving it a tremendous start by taking your own immensely powerful show and helping their venture. If not, in a lot of markets Oprah’s network will actually be competing with herself in syndication.
    If I was starting my own network, my own show would sure be on it.

  5. your site is pretty good great

  6. Remember, OWN would not be the first network that Oprah would have a stake in.
    That network was Oxygen. They wanted Oprah’s reruns and she refused, instead putting on an “after show” which critics and fans alike saw little value in.
    This Discovery deal took place after Oxygen was sold to NBC Universal. Is OWN really going to be that different to the launch of Oxygen?

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