Few people would have predicted Oprah’s newly established OWN Network would not be an instant success. After all, her show, production company, magazine and school were extremely successful. Who could doubt her Midas touch?
For decades Oprah dominated talk show television and enjoyed exceedingly high ratings. Her core audience, white females, welcomed Oprah into their homes every afternoon like an old friend. Her crossover success transcended race, morpihing Oprah from Black to money green as she aggressively courted and pandered her white audience.
Much the surprise of OWN execs and O, the generous ratings she enjoyed did not transfer over to OWN and the newbie network struggled, airing Dr. Phil marathons daily and very little original programming aside from Oprah’s Master Class and Oprah specials. And the fact that some cable stations required an additional fee for OWN didn’t help.
In 2011, the researchers went into the lab when OWN’s ratings hit skid row and discovered OWN’s Sweetie Pies was the highest rated show with 416,000 viewers. Sweetie Pies was a reality show about an African American family running a soul food restaurant. In fact, the network was most popular among African Americans (Hollywood Reporter, 2011). Yep, the good white folks had disappeared. Poof! Gone.
If Oprah had ever left her black audience, she is indeed back and blacker than ever with Iyanla Vanzant’s: "Iyanla, Fix My Life" and Kym Whitley’s: "Raising Whitley", airing back to back on Saturday nights, replacing Sweetie Pies. And to seal her new black deal, she has brought Tyler Perry on board for not one, but two shows to capture his vast black, Christian audience. Surely, she’s betting TP will do for OWN, what he did for TBS.
The audience she overlooked is now her core and it’s working so far. On April 20th, 1.2 million viewers tuned in for “Iyanla, Fix My Life” and “Raising Whitley.” This same ploy worked wonders for Fox Television (In Living Color, Martin) The WB (The Wayan’s Bros, The Jamie Fox Show) and the CW networks. None of which have any black shows now.
So, it will be interesting to see if OWN remains Black or defects when the white folks come back to the bosom of Mama Oprah.