Another long-time executive from Oprah Winfrey‘s inner circle is out. After a 18-year stint as president of Harpo Films, Kate Forte was let go today. While the company continues to have a couple of projects in development at HBO, where it has been under a deal since 2008, Harpo Films has little to show for its efforts in the past five years — its last projects to reach fruition were the 2007 movie The Great Debaters, one of only two features produced by the unit, and 2007 ABC telefilm Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. Harpo Films is a vestige of old times — it was active in the broadcast movie business, doing six films for ABC between 1997-2007. But the demand for long-form projects, especially on the broadcast side, has dried out. And now the Los Angeles-based Harpo Films will de facto fold. As part of a restructuring, its larger sibling production company, Chicago-based Harpo Studios, overseen by OWN presidents Erik Logan and Sheri Salata, is launching a scripted division, which is expected to absorb some of the staff of Harpo Films. Likely based in Los Angeles, its focus will be scripted series, an area that has been growing in recent years as more and more cable networks enter the field. That includes Harpo Studios’ main client, Winfrey’s OWN, which is venturing into scripted series with a comedy and drama from Tyler Perry set to debut later this year.
UH-OH OPRAH! TV Stations Complaining About Her Over-Hype Of OWN/Discovery; Some Drop Shows Or Refuse To Pay Up
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.
EXCLUSIVE: Oprah Winfrey is in talks to star for HBO Films in Ruined, an adaptation of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Ruined, which won an array of awards during its 2009 off-Broadway run, focuses on a brothel in war-torn Congo and the struggles of its madam, Mama Nadi, to keep herself and the women working for her from getting caught between the government and rebel armies. Nottage is writing the script and Oprah Winfrey and Kate Forte will be executive producers.
Ruined has been a top priority project for Harpo since Winfrey and Forte moved the company over from ABC to HBO. They have set up several projects so far, including a 7-hour miniseries adaptation of America: In the King Years, based on the Taylor Branch book trilogy. Winfrey, who last played an onscreen starring role in the 1998 Jonathan Demme-directed Beloved, attached herself earlier this fall to an untitled feature comedy with Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock that is being written and will be directed by Sex and the City‘s Michael Patrick King for Universal Pictures.
Another Discovery executive has been brought over to OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications’ co-venture with Harpo. Maurizio Vitale has been named SVP marketing for the channel, slated to launch on January 1, 2011. He will oversee all on-air and off-air marketing and promotion, reporting to OWN CEO Christina Norman. Vitale comes from Discovery Networks EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) where he was SVP marketing communications. Before that, Vitale was VP creative for MTV Europe Networks.