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Two Top Programming Execs Out at Oprah’s OWN

Maria Grasso and Nina Wass exit cable channel before launch 8/25/2009 08:19:00 PM Eastern

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.”  

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