With a little over
a year until the January 2011 launch date Discovery has set for OWN: The Oprah
Winfrey Network, a few things are probable, a handful are possible and just
about nothing is certain about the programming lineup. But the options the
network's execs have to choose from are coming into focus following
Winfrey's Nov. 20 announcement that
she will end her syndicated talk show in Sept. 2011.
Winfrey is expected to have a daily presence on OWN, though
exactly what that will amount to remains to be seen. The joint venture between Discovery Communications and Harpo
Productions is expected to focus at least at first on non-fiction
programming and include daily doses of health and medical programming, per
carriage agreement requirements associated with taking over Discovery
Health's slot on the dial. OWN is expected to unveil a slate of new
content in January and projects announced during the network's upfront
presentation last year remain in consideration.
The network will have the entire 25-year catalog of The Oprah Winfrey Show starting in Sept.
2011. OWN is likely to seriously consider negotiating windows for at least some
of the Harpo-produced talk shows on the air, such as Dr. Oz, or due to debut before the network does, like the
Nate Berkus vehicle that Harpo and Sony are eyeing for syndication starting in
When the network finally launches in Discovery Health's 70
million-plus cable homes in January 2011, it will face a competitive media
landscape in targeting a well-served female demographic.
"That whole target--working women and stay-at-home moms--is
becoming more and more important and more and more difficult to reach,"
says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media.
Indeed, NBC Universal's
women's brands now include Bravo and Oxygen--a network founded by Winfrey
and Gerry Laybourne--as well as the Web destination iVillage. Oxygen was
launched as an alternative to Lifetime, the original "television for
women," to use the network's old slogan. Now Lifetime Networks
includes the flagship channel as well as Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women, the company's digital
"To be able to launch a network in such a competitive
programming environment, you have to launch big," observes Shari Anne
Brill, senior VP and director of programming at media buying firm Carat.
"[Winfrey] is larger than life in terms of her following, the types of people
she's able to attract, the kinds of issues she delves into. There's
nobody else like her. So she instantly brings a cache to that new network that
no other cable network really has."
Discovery and Winfrey first announced plans to launch a joint
venture channel in January 2008; however, the launch date has been pushed back
several times and there has been turnover in the executive ranks.
Winfrey's announcement clears the way for the network to gain some
Projects announced during the OWN upfront in 2008 are still in
play, B&C has confirmed.
Those include: An investigative series with correspondent Lisa Ling, who has been a contributor on The Oprah Winfrey Show; a newsmaker interview show calledMaster Class,possibly hosted by
Winfrey; a docu-soap about Surfers Healing, a California
surf school for children with autism; a project featuring Peter Walsh, a
de-clutter expert and a frequent guest on Winfrey's talk show; a talk
show hosted by high-profile sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman; and Excellent Adventure, which follows two
friends as they embark on "the adventure they have always dreamed of
OWN has the rights to The Oprah
Winfrey Show as well as a handful of made-for-TV movies in the Harpo
library. (A Discovery representative could not offer specific titles from the
There has also been speculation that OWN could become the cable
home for various Winfrey protégés including Dr.
Phil, Dr. Oz and The Rachael Ray Show. There is currently
no cable home for Dr. Oz, which
debuted in syndication this season. But should one be made available, OWN would
be a likely destination. Ray's show is in first-run syndication
exclusively via CBS Television Distribution and is renewed through 2012. Phil
McGraw produces his show through his own shingle, Peteski
Additionally, Jenny McCarthy inked a multiplatform development
deal with Harpo Productions earlier this year.
(Rumors about Jennifer Aniston fronting a talk show also surfaced, but OWN
representatives denied that they were in talks or had even approached Aniston.)
And last year, Winfrey inked a development deal with HBO for scripted programming. Harpo Films chief Kate
Forte said at the time that carriage agreements stipulate that the bulk of
OWN's programming would be non-scripted, so the HBO deal would not be
The carriage agreements for Discovery
Health and by extension OWN call for a certain number of hours each day
dedicated to health and medical programming. If Dr. Oz lands at OWN it would certainly fill the
health/medical quota. And Discovery Health's top-rated show Dr. G: Medical Examiner
is also said to be in consideration for a berth on OWN.
OWN representatives would not comment on the network's
programming plans or specifics of carriage deals.
Of course, Winfrey would be the biggest start on her network. CBS
Television Distribution handles The Oprah
Winfrey Show. Winfrey reportedly told CBS
Corp. CEO Les Moonves that she would not simply transplant her top-rated
talker to OWN. Rather, according to Deadline Hollywood
Daily, she'll do a show that is "smaller and
"She's going to do some version of [her daytime
show]," says Brill. "Maybe she won't host it every day. Maybe
it won't be the exact format. But she will have something."
"She's not going to fall off the radar the way Howard
Stern did [when he left terrestrial radio for satellite]," says Adgate.
"Her name has become a brand and it has worked in a lot of different
"She exerts a lot of power and influence," adds Brill.
"She's an advertiser's dream, so she'll get that
support. And she just commands a lot of attention."