Oprah is Back to Black

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.

Posted by Susan

Valerie, good post and a great read.

Oh, I have this hate/love thing going on for Oprah. Back in the very first days of the Oprah Winfrey Show, I was really proud of her immediate and sustained success and likeability factor that transcended race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. That continued as she grew larger in popularity and she became the mega-factor in TV entertainment…the personality and one-to-beat benchmark that others in the TV talk world aspired to duplicate or overtake, even if they never really could. In fact, I used to watch Oprah when she was a co-anchor on a Baltimore morning show (I am dating myself here) and I became a fan then. Darn it, the woman just draws you in and she has a golden touch. Not only did she build her empire but she put her midas touch on countless authors (remember I said, how can you get on her book list for instant success??), chefs, life couches and others. Heck, Dr. Phil would not be the phenomenon he has become, if not for Oprah. Certainly, Iyanla must get that. I love Iyanla but she got ahead of herself and put her trust in Barbara Walters and failed when she should have stayed the course with Oprah and perhaps she could have become the same type of life relationship guru and household name that Phil is now. I love Oprah for that…her personal power that she shared with others, if they were lucky enough to get on and stay on her radar.

So, flip side. While I admire that power and influence and intelligence and presence, I did not like her pandering to some while seemingly dismissing others. It always seemed she would hang on to, hug up, validate and love more on non-Black audience members. And, did she ever promote, elevate or present global access to a non-White or non-celebrity author? Was that her or her staff? When she had “celebrity’ types as guests on her show, she would remind us, the viewers, that she was a celebrity and above the common folk, regardless of race. Those are the things that I did not appreciate about Miss O. But, I kept watching, kept tuning in or at least taping episodes because I wanted to witness my sister doing well and succeeding. Isn’t that what we do? Contrary to the “crabs in the barrel” mentality and its' perception or reality, I think we mostly get right up in the corner and support even when we are not properly recognized or validated. When the rubber meets the road, we show up, we step up, we stand up. Actually, we were always there, just maybe in smaller numbers with less of a voice.

Case in point, the Oprah Winfrey Network in its’ earliest days suffered. Many of the people who supported Oprah when she was on the mainstream network (the very ones who received her hugs, love and attention), exited and left the party when she decided to start her own thing. But, it is ironic that the very shows that chronicle our lives such as Sweetie Pie’s, Iyanla’s Fix My Life, and even the new Kim Whitley show and the upcoming Tyler Perry shows (and heaven help us, LaToya Jackson’s reality) are the very programming that might make the OWN viable. So, yep, Oprah is back to Black. She better be if she wants to succeed. Hopefully, once she does succeed, and she will, she won’t forget that.

Posted by Tracee - Oprah

Good blog VJ.

I'm in the group that thinks she did it right from the beginning. Her career that is. She targeted the group that would earn her the most clout and money. And used a lot of earnings to help out "her folks" in other ways. The sad, but true and painful reality is our people are super critical of our people. We hate on each other and would love to see failure rather than success. We are often threatened by each other's success and spend way too much time pushing each other down, not building us up. For the other group its all about money. The 'hating' doesn't come from being threatened or that crabs in a barrel mentality. It's just pure green. Often they don't understand our economic power which results in a lack of color on the screen and we don't force them to see our power. We meaning the "consumers" but that's another story for another blog.

I've seen too often our folks look for opportunities to tear our folks down. The current President is a good example. Yes OWN made many mistakes. But I think folks forget that MOST cable companies have difficult beginnings. BRAVO was not always a behemoth that it is now. It didn't become so until it changed over to the current reality format of fake wives and other madness. OWN had to find its way. People, white and black, put the halo around Oprah. I'm glad that she had those bumps in the second part of her career, so she could see her way back. I'm happy that she/they have found success with the black audience. Make the money then come "home." I'm a fan of that. What happens next, well we'll just see. Nobody likes a success story better than Hollywood. "They" build you up to tear you down to build you back up again. That's the nature of the beast.

Posted by Jennifer B.- Afraid of The Dark

I see I'm gonna have to get a little Jules Winnfield up in here.....Not too long ago...two little studios (then known as the WB & CW Network) built their networks on the known demographical statistics that black viewers (particularly black women age 18 to 49) are the most loyal viewers under any & all circumstances.

The CW pumped out shows like All of Us, Cuts, Eve, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends, Good News, Half & Half, Homeboys in Outer Space, The Hughleys, In The House, Malcolm & Eddie, Moesha, One On One, The Parkers, Second Time Around, The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer and Sparks.

The WB Network debuted with the premiere of The Wayans Bros-IT'S VERY FIRST PROGRAM. The Parent 'Hood, The Steve Harvey Show, The Jamie Foxx Show and Sister, Sister soon followed.

So your folks over at OWN did things a little backward.....not sure if it's too late to bring that 'Oprah Factor' back to OWN-we'll have to wait and see!

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