In light of the sudden departure of OWN’s EVP of production and development Lisa Erspamer, the struggling cable network, a co-venture between Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo and Discovery Communications, has enlisted the help of 16-year Discovery Communications veteran Rita Mullin. On an interim basis, Mullin, currently SVP of Content Strategy for Discovery Fit & Health, will work with OWN’s team on programming and development while continuing in her role at Discovery Fit & Health. OWN’s programming is being overseen by network president Sheri Salata and Winfrey. Mullin brings to OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network what the network’s brass had been lacking: extensive series and cable network experience. Before joining Discovery Fit & Health, Mullin was head of TLC’s East Coast development team and responsible for developing several of the network’s top-rated series, including Jon & Kate Plus 8, 19 Kids And Counting, The Little Couple, Four Weddings and Sister Wives. This marks a homecoming for Mullin who, before her stint at TLC, served as VP of development for the Discovery Health Channel, which was replaced by OWN.
EXCLUSIVE: The revolving door at the struggling OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network continues without slowing, and even without warning or public announcement. This time it has claimed one of Winfrey’s closest and most trusted executives, Lisa Erspamer. We’ve learned that Erspamer, EVP of production and development for the underperforming cable network, was let go yesterday after an 18-year tenure with Winfrey. We hear that the news was delivered to Erspamer while Winfrey was out of the country. (Oprah has been in India to interview Deepak Chopra for her new show Oprah’s Next Chapter.) We hear Erspamer didn’t even receive the news from Oprah personally. No public statement was made. Instead an internal ”Assistant to the Office of the President” email was sent around only to staff: one of those impersonal “we wish her well” announcements. “Lisa was shocked,” a source tells us. “She’d been in Oprah’s inner circle. She went on cruises and vacations with Winfrey. She’d worked for her for almost 20 years. Oprah had transitioned her to OWN personally.” UPDATE THURSDAY AM: We heard from an OWN spokesperson this morning, who said: “Oprah called Lisa Erspamer from India where she is shooting an episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter, and by mutual agreement they decided that it was time for Lisa to move on.”
When Oprah first brought her longtime producer Erspamer to OWN, Winfrey praised her as a “creative superstar”. Now we hear that Erspamer, who had been in charge of programming, is …
EXCLUSIVE: Oprah Winfrey’s upstart cable network OWN continued its aggressive buying at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival by acquiring North American rights to Crime After Crime, the Yoav Potash-directed documentary. I’m told the deal was six figures, and that OWN will afford the film a qualifying Oscar run before it airs on Oprah’s new network. OWN chief creative officer Lisa Erspamer made the deal with Submarine’s Josh Braun and David Koh. The doc is about Deborah Peagler, an abused woman who struck back at the boyfriend who beat her. She was sentenced to 25 years to life for his murder. Some 20 years into her sentence, California passed a law permitting domestic violence survivors to have their case reopened. A pair of real estate lawyers took on Peagler’s case, and what seemed an easy effort turned into a politically-driven nightmare to free her. The film debuted January 23 at the Temple Theatre, and I’d heard this was an emotionally wrenching tear-jerker. Several distributors including Goldwyn and IFC were interested. The film will have its DVD distribution through Oprah’s Documentary Club, and comes on the heels of OWN’s announcement that Rosie O’Donnell will be a collaborator in the OWN Docu Club. Remake rights were not part of the deal, and I’ve heard there is interest on that front. OWN also acquired the docu Becoming Chaz, which premiered at Sundance.
OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network this morning announced the long-rumored series with troubled Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson. The six-part documentary Finding Sarah will feature Ferguson’s “personal struggle to rebuild her life,” said OWN’s chief creative officer Lisa Erspamer. “With the help of experts Dr. Phil McGraw, Suze Orman, Martha Beck and others, The Duchess will open up about her recent public troubles and explore her lifelong battles with weight, relationships and finances.” Speculation about a Ferguson series on OWN started when the Duchess sat down with Winfrey to discuss her bribery scandal on June 1. Finding Sarah is being produced by World of Wonder for a premiere in the first quarter of 2011.
OWN Greenlights Documentaries with Julia Roberts, Forest Whitaker, Goldie Hawn, Gabriel Byrne and Mariel Hemingway
LOS ANGELES, July 26 — OWN: THE OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK is producing five OWN original two-hour documentaries with Julia Roberts, Forest Whitaker, Goldie Hawn, Gabriel Byrne and Mariel Hemingway, OWN announced today.
The films will be presented as part of OWN’s monthly documentary film club, along with the original acquisitions LIFE 2.0 and SONS OF PERDITION. The documentary club will spotlight these films and the previously announced FAMILY AFFAIR, focusing on cinematic documentaries that encourage emerging creative voices to bring their stories to a mainstream television audience on OWN.