When OWN first debuted in 2011, Oprah Winfrey was hailed as the Queen of All Media. Her syndicated talk show, Oprah was a tremendous success. So her new cable channel OWN began with a focus on a target audience of middle-aged white women. The cable channel featured shows with Winfrey proteges like Dr. Phil and Suze Orman. There were also unscripted shows with Shania Twain, Sarah Ferguson and Ryan and Tatum O’Neil. But, what had been a draw for the Oprah show wasn’t working for OWN.
Oprah told People Magazine that she suffered “the symptoms of a nervous breakdown” and reached her “breaking point” because her Oprah Winfrey Network was struggling very publicly.
After 25 years of being No. 1, I had become accustomed to success. I didn’t expect failure. I was tested and I had to dig deep.” She said “the schadenfreude was very painful for me, because I had never experienced it. I thought, ‘Do I not get credit for the 25 years? What have I gotten myself into?’” – Deadline
Well, as Oprah dug deep, she unearthed that black female viewers have proven to be the secret to success for her OWN channel. With two major moves, she put more of herself on the channel, and refocused the channel on black female viewers, with unscripted shows like Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s, a series with motivational guru Iyanla Vanzant and Perry’s scripted programs, which draw some of the channel’s highest ratings.
Black female viewers are the secret element of success for many TV shows. They watch more TV, proportionally, than their white counterparts and they make most of the purchasing decisions for their households, according to data from Nielsen. OWN’s turn toward them made sense in all sorts of ways, particularly because they remain a viewership group starved for programming about them that feels authentic. – NPR
From the onset, OWN struggled to fill its schedule. The network secured big advance advertising commitments, including a $100 million deal with Procter & Gamble Co., but then struggled to deliver on its audience guarantees reports the Wall Street Journal.
In late 2012, the network got a big boost when it signed on writer-producer Tyler Perry, known for his film and television comedies, to help it quickly gear up more scripted shows. With ratings and ad revenue growing, OWN was able to push further into dramas with projects like “Queen Sugar” and “Greenleaf” in hopes of a must-see hit. OWN is now the highest-rated cable network among African-American women, and in the top 20 among all women, according to Discovery.
In the new Winfrey-produced show, “Greenleaf,” actress Merle Dandridge plays Grace, the estranged daughter of the titular Greenleaf family, an African-American religious dynasty that runs a megachurch in Memphis. Dandridge’s character comes back home after 20 years following the mysterious death of her sister and finds herself right back in the position she was so desperate to leave behind.
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