It's official now. Oprah Winfrey last week reupped to continue her talk show for two more years, with King World continuing as her distributor. That will take her through the 2007-08 season, with a strong possibility that even that season won't be her last.
"I don't see 2008 as being the final year," said Tim Bennett, president of Winfrey's Harpo Productions, last week. "I think, as long as she continues to do what she likes to do and feels like she's doing television that raises the bar, there really is no end in sight."
As an added bonus for stations, Winfrey is sweetening the last two years of her current deal by adding 85 more original episodes than promised with no increase in the license fee, according to King World CEO Roger King.
Oprah will give stations 145 original episodes, or 29 weeks, next season, just as she did this season.
She will then add 30 original episodes to the 2004-05 season, bumping production up from the promised 100 originals to 130, or 26 weeks.
Production will remain at that level through 2007-08, King said, even though Oprah had said earlier that she would retire after the 2005-06 season with only 75 original episodes, or 15 weeks.
"Oprah wants to continue to win," Bennett said. "She's making a difference, and, to make a difference, you have to have the leadership position. We deliberated, collaborated and decided that it would be in her best interest to retain the same number of titles we're currently at, and 130 represents fresh shows for all of these sweeps and then some."
Although license fees will remain the same for The Oprah Winfrey Show—that's about $3 million a week collectively through 2005-06—King expects stations to jump for this additional round of renewals, but he wouldn't estimate by how much.
Even during this go-round, in which the ABC owned stations re-signed Oprah for another two years, the CBS stations went after the show "very aggressively," King said, but lost out to ABC.
"Water seeks its own levels," King said. "It's all about competition. King World can't just turn down a higher offer and take a lower one."
Though grabbing Oprah from ABC owned stations probably would have helped CBS O&Os, the bottom line is that, either way, Viacom wins because it owns King World. But Winfrey's decision no doubt will make stations wonder about their own plans down the road.