by Dr. Boyce Watkins, YourBlackWorld.com
Oprah Winfrey fired the CEO of her television network after a period of dismal ratings. Christian Norman, the former CEO for the Oprah Winfrey Network was released due to the fact that he was unable to get the kind of audience that Oprah desired. OWN is a partnership created by Winfrey and the Discovery Communications Network. The network launched on January 1 and Norman will be replaced in the interim by Chief Operating Officer Peter Ligouri.
While Winfrey has promised to be more hands-on in the future, the question is whether or not she has the ability to bring massive audiences onto a cable platform. Winfrey has a magical ability to draw and keep an audience, but she may find that these abilities don’t translate into the skills necessary to push forward with a major network.
Another Chicago superstar, Michael Jordan, had a similar problem adjusting from being a great player to becoming a team owner. Jordan seemed to believe that he could use brute force to conquer any obstacle, and has yet to find the same success as an owner that he once had on the court. Also like Winfrey, Jordan fired one coach after another to seek out the correct recipe for greatness, and ended up frustrating (and frightening) a lot of people in the process. While it might initially be an honor to work with Jordan, my instincts say that the excitement eventually wears off and is replaced with a taste of disgust and exasperation.
Winfrey, like Jordan, must also avoid the Tyler Perry-like temptation to obsessively utilize her own brand to try to save an entire franchise. Whenever Perry’s movies need a boost, he simply throws Madea into the mix; it’s hard to imagine a man creating an entire film empire by putting on a dress. So far, it’s worked for Perry, but it won’t work for more than three more years. Jordan himself went to the court as a 41-year old man a few years ago to bring the Washington Wizards back to profitability (and his legacy to its knees). Winfrey herself will find that she can only be on television for a few hours each day before the audience gets tired of seeing her.
I have to admire Oprah for choosing to build her own network. One hopes that in addition to giving soccer moms across America something that whets their appetite, Winfrey can continue to find ways to also serve the community from which she came. Thus far, she’s done a wonderful job, for Oprah is certainly worth admiring.