Two Top Programming Execs Out at Oprah’s OWN
Maria Grasso and Nina Wass exit cable channel before launch
By Claire Atkinson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/25/2009 3:19:47 PM
Two top programming executives have left OWN to pursue new ventures. Maria Grasso and Nina Wass exited in the past few weeks, according to a spokeswoman for the yet-to-launch lifestyle network which is jointly owned by Discovery Communications and Oprah Winfrey.
The changes follow the appointment of Jamila Hunter, who was named head of programming for the LA-based company in June and came from NBC. Grasso and Wass were both hired by Robin Schwartz, who departed abruptly in April 2009. Schwartz's role as president of the channel became redundant after Oprah hired former MTV president Christina Norman.
Grasso, a highly respected executive, was senior VP of programming and has been credited with creating shows such as Lifetime’s Army Wives, and other series including, One Tree Hill and Everwood. She was previously senior VP of series development at Lifetime.
The two were in charge of scripted, alternative, short and long form programming at OWN with Wass taking responsibility for the creative department, production and scheduling. A spokeswoman for the channel confirmed that both executives had departed the company, saying that it isn’t unusual to see personnel changes when new executives begin.
Wass was said to be working on projects for Lifetime. She could not immediately be reached, while Grasso did not return calls for comment.
It is typical for senior level programming executives to sign two-year contracts. Wass joined in August 2008, while Grasso joined in October of the same year. It is unclear what will happen to the projects they had been working on, though it seems clear the channel is taking a new direction under Winfrey and Norman. The departing programming executives were more skilled in the scripted arena, while the channel appears to be leaning more towards news and reality fare.
According to Variety, Winfrey herself is set to host Master Class, a show featuring interviews with newsmakers. There's also the news mag, Lisa Ling Investigates and a docu-soap titled, Surfer's Healing.
The changes are bound to raise questions about progress at OWN which is yet to unveil much news beyond what was said during the Discovery Communications upfront presentation in May. The service is set to launch in early 2010 in more than 70 million homes, replacing Discovery Health.
Discovery has said it expects to spend between $70 million and $80 million on the network, though offered little news on its August 4 earnings call. Sources have suggested that Oprah hadn’t had the opportunity to carve out much time on the channel, though Discovery CEO David Zaslav appeared to refute that, saying on the second quarter earnings call, that the media mogul was “fully engaged.”
Actually, having spoke with several key members of the Oprah executive team ... They seem to be at odds as to even what direction to go with Own.tv. The Oprah.com team is more worried about Oprah retiring than they are about setting up a new network. The Own venture is way above Oprah's current executive team's experience.
George Stamens - 9/6/2009 2:19:17 PM EDT
Yet another Zaslav fumble. When will DCI wise up and get back to basics, to a time when the company was pioneering and engaging. Jeeeze.
G. W. Skrahs - 8/29/2009 1:47:39 PM EDT
Channel is DOA. Can't get the management together. Programming keeps changing. Discovery has another failure on it's hands with this one.
Left to pursue other opportunties? Who are they kidding? Better not underestimate the intelligence of their viewers the way they do the rest of us in the industry.
Heidi - 8/26/2009 9:05:42 PM EDT
Oprah is fantastic. Dr. Phil, Rachel Ray, Dr. Oz, she is a terrific programmer. I love her sense of style and how she reaches out to regular women like me.
I cannot WAIT to see her network and her programming choices.
Tori Spangler - 8/26/2009 10:18:29 AM EDT
I don't listen to Oprah on the radio, nor do I plan on watching this network. Watching Oprah on TV is enough. She has great intentions and has given us great spin off's (Dr. Oz), but her modus operandi seems to be making sure her same circle of celeb friends get as much airtime as possible. As someone who works in the publishing industry, I find her cross promotional tactics with her guests on her show who happen to also have been profiled in her magazine a tad distasteful, making it look like she is putting this whole magazine together while her Editor-In-Chief and editorial staff is hidden away somewhere. However, the last straw for me, was when she thanked her friend Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry's wife) on air, for the closet full of designer shoes Seinfeld sent her as a thank you for allowing her to sell her new cook book on the show. Oprah was great THEN, but she is now losing touch with the everyday folk.
samantha hook - 8/25/2009 8:01:36 PM EDT
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