EXCLUSIVE: Did Oprah Winfrey go too far in promoting her new cable network OWN as well as sister Discovery Communications nets on her syndicated talk show? I hear broadcast stations are upset over several shows last week that they believe crossed a line into self-promotion that encourages viewers to tune to cable and away from the stations that air The Oprah Winfrey Show. The 3 shows in question aired on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week. The one on Tuesday, Dec. 28, showcased 4 Discovery shows, Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs and Cash Cab and TLC’s Quints by Surprise and DC Cupcakes. (OWN is a a co-venture between Winfrey’s Harpo and Discovery Communications.) The Dec. 29 show focused on OWN’s Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, and the Dec. 30 episode was dedicated to another OWN series, Oprah’s Search For the Next TV Star. I hear station managers were frustrated that Oprah would air originals on the least-watched in-season week between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone is in repeats. But that made sense for the talk show queen as the shows served as promos for OWN, which launched a couple of days later, on January1.
In fact, the Dec. 30 episode of Oprah had the show’s logo replaced with a giant OWN logo as studio background as well as on several monitors visible onscreen for the entire show (see picture on left). On those 3 shows, Oprah talked at length about the new channel. “At high noon, my OWN network is officially on the air,” she reportedly said in one instance. “Every single minute of the 24-hour cable network has been created with you, the viewer, in mind.” The episode with the Discovery/TLC reality shows titled Reality TV’s Big Stars (even though these are hardly the biggest reality shows on TV), was accompanied by a resources section on Oprah.com listing broadcast information about all shows and directing visitors to the shows’ Discovery Web sites. (See below.)
I hear the ABC O&O stations, which have been the core station group for Oprah, have been very frustrated by the OWN and Discovery-themed content, with KABC-TV GM Arnie Kleiner and WABC-TV GM Dave Davis calling Harpo president Erik Logan to complain. I hear ABC stations don’t want to pay for those episodes and want additional original segments of Oprah‘s final season to be delivered by Harpo instead. (Oprah is a very expensive show, and with ratings softening over the past couple of years, some stations have actually been losing money on it.) Things have gotten tense, and I hear there may be a conference call between the 2 sides on the issue scheduled for today. I also heard ramblings that one or more of those episodes may have been dropped by CBS-owned or other non-ABC stations. Here is Harpo’s statement in response to our request for comment:
“We have a long-standing history on The Oprah Winfrey Show of promoting various networks’ programming that includes topics and themes that are of interest to our viewers. We value our close relationships with our partner affiliates, and have an ongoing open dialogue with them. Each of our partner stations always have the option to decide which shows they’d like to broadcast.”