Oprah Winfrey is set to sell her Harpo Studios to Chicago developer Sterling Bay after putting the complex up for sale months ago. A lease-back agreement will keep Winfrey’s media company on the site for two more years as part of the pact, which will take effect within 30 days. Winfrey first established her namesake studio in 1990 anchored by her talk program The Oprah Winfrey Show but ended the series in 2011 to start OWN Network. Harpo Studios currently employs over 200 in Chicago. “We have entered into a purchasing agreement with Sterling Bay for the four-building Harpo Studios Campus in Chicago’s West Loop. The property will be leased back to Harpo for two years and the studio will continue to produce programming for OWN,” a Harpo spokesperson confirmed in a statement.
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 …
Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav have run out of excuses: With their unofficial relaunch today of OWN, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves if their struggling joint venture fails to show a big improvement in the ratings following a dismal 3Q. In its targeted demo, women 25-54, OWN delivered a rating of .16 — down 16% vs. the same period last year when the channel was still Discovery Health. OWN may have set a deceptively low bar for itself; word is that it cut back on marketing in preparation for the relaunch. Still, the channel is betting everything on Oprah’s star power — and, to a lesser extent, Rosie O’Donnell’s — and that will be put to the test beginning today with the launch of The Rosie Show (7-8 PM) and Oprah’s Lifeclass (8-9 PM). Winfrey’s program, built on clips from her syndicated talk show, begins with one of her classics: for an episode about “ego,” she will include scenes from the show where she illustrated how much weight she lost from a liquid protein diet by wheeling in a wagon filled with 70 pounds of fat. Discovery will air both shows today on TLC, Investigation Discovery, Discovery Fit & Health and Planet Green as well as OWN. The joint venture also is spending more than $10M for marketing, not including free ad time on Discovery-owned networks. The cash is going for ads on hit shows such as The X Factor and Dancing With The Stars, as well as radio and billboards, and websites including Yahoo, Google, People.com, Technorati, and TVGuide.com.
One of OWN’s two highest-rated series, Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, is moving from Fridays to Sundays beginning March 27, where it will be paired with Oprah Presents Master Class. Behind the Scenes has been airing on Fridays with reality competition Your OWN Show, which recently wrapped its low-rated run. With Master Class‘ companion on Sunday, series of specials Ask Oprah’s All Stars, also gone, OWN’s two series featuring Winfrey, Behind the Scenes and Master Class, will now run together on Sundays. OWN will go down from four to three nights of original programming – Monday, Tuesday and Sunday. When Master Class ends its season, it will be succeed by The Judds, a reality series starring Naomi and Wynonna Judd, which will premiere April 10. OWN, which has been slow out of the gate, has two solid ratings performers, Behind the Scenes and Our America with Lisa Ling, which was recently renewed for a second season.
Finally, a home makeover show for IKEA shoppers. OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network just announced its new series, Home Takeover with Simon & Tomas, a “high-energy” primetime home makeover series starring Scandinavian interior designers Simon Davies and Tomas Cederlund. The six-episode series will premiere on March 28. “Simon and Tomas will take America by storm with their unique sense of style,” said Lisa Erspamer, chief creative officer, OWN. “The duo are not only skilled interior decorators, but their over-the-top personalities also make them fun to watch as they perform their design magic and literally move into the homes they are helping.” The series is executive produced by Chris Cowan, Ray Giuliani and Jean-Michel Michenaud.
“It’s like being thrown to the wolves,” Oprah said frettingly while getting seated onstage for a Q&A session about her new OWN cable network. She didn’t have to worry. Within a few minutes, she had complete control of the room, taking her time answering questions, telling stories, choking up while doing it, throwing in jokes, inspiring, in short, being Oprah. She invoked her childhood as a poor girl in rural Mississippi raised by her grandmother several times, including when she talked about seeing herself on TV as she introduced OWN to viewers in the channel’s first minutes on the air on Jan.1. “In that moment, I was thinking about this journey and not just those last couple of years with people coming and going and finding the people with the right (attitude). I was thinking about how absolutely extraordinary it is that I can sit at this place coming from this little town in Mississippi.”During the Q&A session – actually, Q&A is an overstatement, the session resembled more a series of monologues by Oprah, with only 5 critics being able to ask questions in 45 minutes – the talk show host talked a lot about her dreams. When she started in TV, her dream was to become a guest host on Good Morning America, she said. Her agent at the time told her that would never going to happen as the colored anchor spot in morning TV …
From Ray Richmond, who is contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:
He was once shooting for Barack Obama but Morgan got the woman who helped him become a president. When his new nightly talk show, Piers Morgan Tonight, premieres on CNN (replacing Larry King Live) on Jan. 17, Morgan’s first guest will be none other than the queen herself, Oprah Winfrey, a “get” of which he was clearly quite proud. “We had a terrific conversation, it was one of those discussions that went on and on,” he said during Piers Morgan Tonight‘s Q&A session at TCA. “It was one of those times where you drop your guard and it’s more like two friends talking. We extended far beyond our allotted time because she was enjoying it so much.” When it was pointed out by a critic that landing Oprah isn’t such a boffo exclusive these days given the launch of her new OWN Network — and that he’s already been beaten to the punch by, among others, Barbara Walters — Morgan begged to differ, noting with characteristic brashness, “Anytime you can get Oprah, it’s a great thing. She has an extraordinary brand. She’s worth nearly $3 billion. That makes her a totally unique character.”
Morgan wasn’t exactly shy during his first meeting before the gathered press, flashing his well-honed British self-assurance and controlling the room with a magician’s smooth sleight of hand. Without bashing his predecessor, he specifically conveyed the message that, yes, he is the savior who will instantly stop CNN’s ratings free-fall and restore it to the greatness and grandeur of yore. “The truth is that CNN remains the most prestigious and profitable news network internationally already,” Morgan said. “The fact that it has a short-term ratings problem here in the U.S. doesn’t diminish that fact. Over the last two years, CNN has been getting its butt kicked by Fox News and MSNBC in primetime. I’d like to get to the position where the butt-kickng is reversed a little bit. And I’m absolutely confident I can do that.”
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.
This is going to keep those SNL parodies coming – OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network just announced new primetime series created and hosted by financial advisor, motivational speaker and television personality Suze Orman to launch in the fall. Tentatively titled Money Class, the series will feature Orman helping people with their financial problems. Orman is already on OWN as a featured expert on Ask Oprah’s All Stars and as a guest judge on Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star.
EXCLUSIVE: Carson Kressley is getting his own series on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Kressley, who is already set to co-host Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search For the Next TV Star, which will premiere on OWN at its January launch, will also topline Carson-Nation, a makeover series, which will begin production next month for a March premiere. Carson-Nation, from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition creator/ executive producer Tom Forman and Relativity Real, will feature Kressley traveling around the country “to makeover America one town at time and to make peoples lives better.” Executive producing the series with Forman is David Metzler. Kressley, repped by ICM and Untitled, shot to prominence as the breakout star of Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He recently headlined Lifetime’s How To Look Good Naked and co-hosted ABC’s True Beauty.