Oprah quitting show in 2011? Business partner says yes, but ...
By Phil Rosenthal
Tribune media columnist
7:41 PM CST, November 7, 2008
The chief executive of Oprah Winfrey's business partner in her Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, cable channel said today he expects the Queen of Daytime Talk to retire her nationally syndicated Chicago-based TV show in 2011, but Winfrey's spokeswoman insisted that's not yet set in stone.
OWN is a 50-50 multi-platform venture between Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications that's set to launch next year.
"The expectation is that after [the 2010-11 season] her show will go off of … syndication, and she will come to OWN," David Zaslav, Discovery's president and CEO, said in a call with analysts. "We're talking now about what that presence would be and what programming she would be involved in directly. But this is her Chapter Two, and building the OWN brand online and on-air is something that she and I, we're working [on] together and it's a core mission for her."
Winfrey's current contract with CBS Television Distribution to do "The Oprah Winfrey Show" does in fact expire in 2011 after her 25th season on national TV. But Lisa Halliday, chief spokeswoman for Winfrey's Harpo Productions, cast Zaslav's remark as premature.
"She has not made a final decision as to whether she will continue her show in syndication beyond that," Halliday said in a statement.
CBS Television Distribution, in its own statement, said it "would certainly welcome and hope that 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' would continue in syndication beyond , but that is a decision only Ms. Winfrey will be making."
The talk show continues to be successful despite ratings erosion over the last year or so that some have pegged to her political involvement off-camera in support of Barack Obama's presidential bid. Others have attributed it to changing overall media consumption patterns coupled with the challenge of remaining so dominant for so long.
OWN was announced in January and will replace the Discovery Health channel when it launches in more than 70 million homes in the second half of 2009. Winfrey is its chairman and will enjoy editorial control. What, if any on-camera role she might play has yet to be delineated, however, and, in fact, her syndication deal limits her ability even to put reruns of her daytime show on the channel.
Winfrey has floated the notion of ending the show that originates from her Harpo compound on Chicago's Near West Side before only to reconsider and embrace a lucrative new renewal deal.
It happened in 1997 before she signed a renewal through 2002. When she re-signed in 2002, she said her 20th season in 2006 would be the end. By 2004, she changed her mind again and extended the deal yet once more. She only recently informed CBS that she was picking up the option on the final 2010-11 season of the current deal.
Winfrey has explained she sees OWN as not merely an opportunity to expand her media empire, which already includes O magazine, the "Oprah & Friends" satellite radio channel and a movie and television production company. It is a way to extend her legacy and that of the show that catapulted her to prominence.
"The truth of the matter is one day the show has to end. That may be 2011 and that may be after 2011," Winfrey told reporters in January. "This is an evolution of what I've been able to do every day. I will now have the opportunity to do that 24 hours a day on a platform that goes on forever.
"This network isn't just about me," she said. "It's using the voice and the brand and the vision, but it really is about creating possibilities for any number of people ... to extend the vision in a way that obviously I cannot 24 hours a day."