OWN shakeup tests Winfrey, Discovery relationship

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“These shows work because they’re infused with Ms. Winfrey’s core platform for meaningful messages and impactful storytelling,” she said in an email.

Such programs strike others as virtuous but dull, among them Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

“You have to admire Oprah for this, but it doesn’t seem she’s willing to put the kinds of shows on that the channel really needs,” Thompson said. “What OWN needs is `Jersey Shore.’ What OWN needs is `Real Housewives,’ a splashy program that everyone watches and talks about, that may have questionable elements.”

“It seems the kind of spectacular reality show that OWN needs is one that seems to be outside the definition of what OWN will accept,” he said.

OWN can find a middle ground, countered Discovery spokesman David Leavy.

“There’s a lot of white space between `Jersey Shore’ and `Housewives.’ Good programming doesn’t need to be as salacious as that,” he said, citing “Undercover Boss” as an example.

Let Oprah be Oprah, said one viewer, Charles W. Rawls III, a Winfrey admirer _ and a realist.

“I want programming that will share what she stands for. But that may not be what the masses want and advertisers are willing to pay for,” said Rawls, a marketing manager in Philadelphia.

For a successful woman, one who thinks and lives big, Winfrey has entered new territory.

The overhaul announced this week, including the layoffs of 30 staffers intended to reduce redundancies between Discovery and its partner in OWN, Winfrey’s Harpo Inc., brought Neal Kirsch, chief financial officer of Discovery’s U.S. networks, to OWN as chief operating officer and CFO.

(OWN launched with a 150-person staff double that of the typical cable channel, another invitation to trim.)

In January, Discovery Fit & Health executive Rita Mullen was brought in on an interim basis to work on programming and development after the departure of Lisa Erspamer from OWN.

Their work is cut out for them.

Discovery’s annual report filed in February said there will be “significant additional funding to OWN” that will exceed its earnings over the next two years. That will mean adding to the $312 million Discovery has given the venture so far, the report said. Discovery CEO David Zaslav told analysts he expects the channel to become a “significant asset,” and cited growth in revenue streams, including advertising.

Discovery owns 50 percent of OWN but Winfrey, through Harpo, holds operational rights over programming, marketing and decision-making authority for key management positions, according to Discovery’s filing. Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, and every two-and-half years after, Harpo can require Discovery to “purchase all or part of its interest in OWN,” the filing said.

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