Oprah, OWN & Opportunism

Is it just me or is there something totally “off” OWN’s journalistic decisions as of late? As a brief disclaimer: This piece is not an attempt at lambasting the big O; rather, it is an attempt at uncovering what is really going on beneath the surface at OWN. I would be remiss if I didn’t first laud lady O for her numerous humanitarian contributions, poised demeanor, along with the immense career she has solidified for herself. I mean from building a school in South Africa, while embracing the true meaning of the adage “charity begins at home” after having sent a plethora of young men and women off to college in America – “O” is one of the few people who – when faced with the lurking reality of their demise will be able to utter the words: “I made a difference in my lifetime.” We can all learn a lot from the O – hands down that’s a feat that deserves a standing O [pun intended].

Contributions and all that good stuff aside, it has been [for lack of a better term] perplexing the opportunistic journey upon which the producers of OWN have been since its inception back on January 1st, 2011. From the lackluster shows and ratings, to the network only being available on premium cable, to the saturation of self-help topics, which were dare I say it “stuffy” and veered off the beaten path of what we had become accustomed to seeing from the often boisterous, never really subdued O.

What irks me most about OWN’s descent into a place of near extinction are the mechanisms that are being used to salvage it, which by the way they’ve achieved this year by witnessing its viewership increase by 25% in recent months. But should African-American popular culture be attributed for the network’s steady ascent back into the limelight?

Let us just have a quick flashback, shall we? When Whitney Houston passed on back in February, the O landed herself in the coveted position of being the first journalist to interview Whitney’s family to unveil just how they had been coping with the untimely passing of a beloved sister, mother, friend, mentor and legend to many. Subsequent to the Houston interview that attracted the network’s highest ratings to date – an impressive 3.5 million, the O has ventured out some more to interview the likes of Rapper Fifty Cent, Singer Rihanna, and more recently Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas, with Rihanna raking in the network’s second highest ratings to date with 2.5 million viewers. It’s all fine and dandy that the OWN network has added all of these interviews their roster. However, the question to ask is: Are these interviews being conducted solely for the purpose of gaining viewers for her network or is OWN genuinely interested in so doing?

Many may recall a time back in the days of the Oprah Winfrey Show when the media mogul came under fire for refusing to allow rappers onto her show – claiming that she was against all of the misogyny and harsh lyrics that rappers often espouse in their songs. Fair enough. The O was entitled to her opinion. Though rappers, namely Ice Cube came out against the O by hinting at the irrationality behind allowing murderers and rapists onto her show, while refusing to entertain rappers in her studio. The O’s decision to ban rappers appeared to have been set in stone. Who would have thought that the O would later revoke her own decision by inviting rapper Fifty Cent onto her new network for an interview? If that ain’t opportunism at its finest then I don’t know what to call it.

While I have never considered the O to be a spokesperson for Black America, nor do I believe that she should be, my greatest concern is that she and her predominantly White, middle class production team have – by all accounts – begun to tap into a market that was previously deemed unpalatable to them. Be things as they may, it just does not sit well with me that what was useless before has all of a sudden become useful to OWN because their agenda is now fixated on a ratings increase.

What are your thoughts? Do you think OWN is being opportunistic with their journalistic prospects?
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Nikki is an educator and writer, whose musings cover a broad range of topics including but, not limited to: politics, love, education and cultural criticism. You can follow her on Twitter @artculturemusic

7 Comments

  1. To run a successful network is a huge undertaking that does not happen overnight. Trial and error will be the standard for a while. All networks have gone through it and continue to change their roster/line up to stay on top. Bottom line is Oprah knows how to do interviews, that is her bread and butter so why not rely on it until other areas of the network start to perform. She is allowed some cushion to tap into new things or talk to new people, she did deem this as her next chapter. So if rappers include that so be it. I’d rather see 50 cent have a real interview with Oprah than some ratchet one elsewhere.

  2. This is a great topic!!! I’ve been watching the change and have to just go with it! Failure is obviously not an option for Oprah! What’s she’s doing is typical of what television networks have always done from early shows like Amos and Andy, Good Times, The Jeffersons, The Cosby Shows, Martin, Bernie Mack Show…so many!

    Oprah didn’t think she would have to incorporate this much color into the mix! Her show “Sweetie Pies” has the biggest program ratings, I believe and understandably so, Ms. Robbie is the bizness and appeals to a mass audience!

    She’s going with pop culture and what appeals to soooooooo many people, “The Kardashians”…Mating Shows…Crime Dramas…Rappers…super pop stars, Rihanna, Gaga…a legendary and iconic Black model (Bev got plenty of hate mail tho)…along with icons like Jane Fonda, Morgan Freeman, Ted Turner, Jon Bon Jovi.

    Her mix is developing and black guests, shows and viewers are saving the day as we did for TBS with Tyler Perry’s shows, Martin and Living Single, Jamie Foxx, Tyra’s ANTM did for Fox and UPN (The CW)! Our flavor, swag, uniqueness, intelligence, beauty, talent and humor are undeniable!

    It takes lot to grow a network and O is going with what people tune into to watch…like VH1 is having a great time! I find myself watching OWN more and more, love the master classes! JHUD with sister talking together for the first time, big ratings! Evelyn L. will have great ratings with Iyanla Vanzant (her biased and sometimes bogus counseling, in my opinion) is just the beginning of this dive into pop culture! This is the next chapter!

  3. I guess in so many ways Oprah is learning and growing – pun intended. But let’s be fair that 50 Cent also is changing his tune. Remember that he famously referred to his dog as “Oprah Winfree, 50 Cent’s B***h” on twitter and yet there he was inviting the O into his home and his grandmother’s home, sweetly recalling the past for her and even shedding tears.

    Like Maya Angelou says “when we know better we do better”.

    We live, we learn … hopefully.

  4. ive noticed the change, but Oprah is just playing the game. After all this is a business, can we really fault her for going after rating boosters. I dont think so.

  5. She has to be about ratings if she wants her network to survive, afterall this is a business. I do applaud Oprah’s success, but she still caters to white people a little too much for me. In the Gabby Douglas interview she kept pointing out that is was black women who made fun of Gabby’s hair, and she was quick to let her good white folks know that “I don’t play the race card” and I’m like no shyt! I guess you don’t have to when you’re worth $1 billion dollars. Gabby even said that she didn’t want to talk about the negative and Oprah said “I want to talk to about it” She was just itching for the opportunity to throw black women under the bus over the Gabby hair situation. She was all on Barack Obama’s nuts last election, but she won’t dare speak his name this election, she don’t want to piss off her white conservative audience. And I don’t like that fact that her staff is white, we have tons of black graduates coming out of film school and here we have a black woman with the most successful talk show of all time who now owns a network and her staff is completely white, but yet all of her black interviews were the most successful.

  6. @Stephany

    I agree with so much of what you say! Oprah simply isn’t the black woman of power many of us hope for! I still commend her, but it bothers me to see her predominate white staff when there are so few industry jobs in television. She obviously has her own perspective on hiring, not to have more diversity! I think she still has hurtful feelings toward black women who have been quite vocal and critical of her over the years! She went overboard with the hair thing. But, I love O and I saw her in person and her energy was electric and I really got a feel of her magic! She’s just flawed and is someone who’s actions are a reflection of her childhood living in a racially divided south, wanting equality and acceptance!

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