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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
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Oprah’s OWN Turns To Tyler Perry For Ratings Boost

By Carson Blackwelder
Television Contributor

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Oprah Winfrey‘s cable network OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) is making its first venture into scripted TV.

The network has entered into a partnership with director, writer, producer and actor Tyler Perry, who is best known for his over-the-top portrayal of the character Madea in several films, to make it the place for his shows and projects. Part of the deal requires that Perry produce two new scripted series for OWN to premiere in mid-2013.

“I have been looking forward to the day when we would be in the position to enter the world of scripted television,” Winfrey says. “We are all energized by the opportunity to collaborate with Tyler, who has a proven track record for producing highly successful cable series. He has an incredible ability to illuminate life stories and characters in his unique voice and inspires and encourages people all over the world.”

“It’s a dream realized to partner with Oprah and bring scripted programming to OWN,” Perry says. “She has accomplished so much with the network, and I’m excited to work with her to be a part of its continued growth.”

Perry’s programs will join such popular OWN shows as reality series Iyanla: Fix My Life and Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.

Since the channel’s debut in January 2011, Winfrey’s had no trouble owning up to (pun intended) the uphill battle it’s faced — even going so far as to say the network is “”not where I want it to be.” The media mogul took over control in July 2011 to help improve the disappointing ratings.

One notable misstep for OWN was giving Rosie O’Donnell a talk show. The Rosie Show debuted Oct. 10, 2011, and was canceled after only five months on the air. The program bowed to 500,000 viewers, but within days, about half had stopped watching.

Recently, however, ratings have improved, especially with Oprah’s Next Chapter airing such highly anticipated interviews as those with singer Rihanna, reality TV stars the Kardashians and Olympian Gabby Douglas. With these in-depth interviews, the former daytime queen is in her comfort zone and slowly but surely improving her new TV home.

Oprah’s Next Chapter debuted on New Year’s Day of 2012 to an audience of 1.1 million viewers and the next week to 1.6 million viewers — the numbers have only been going up from there. The series is now attracting 3.5 million viewers per episode.

Perry’s move to OWN will undoubtedly help to strengthen the network’s ratings, as he has a particularly devoted fan base. Perry’s low-budget films generally bring in more than $50 million, and his TV shows have been fairly successful.

Perry’s previous scripted series include House of Payne (which was canceled in 2011), Meet the Browns (which was also canceled last year) and For Better or Worse (which lives to fight another day). All have aired on TBS. Before being canceled, House of Payne aired more episodes — a total of 254 — than any other sitcom with a predominantly black cast, beating CBS’s The Jeffersons (253 episodes), CBS’s Family Matters (215 episodes) and NBC’s The Cosby Show (201 episodes).

It’s undeniable that Perry has affected the TV industry by airing shows with predominately African-American casts, as many programs still prescribe to the “token character.” The only other TV executive who has made way for lead African-American actors and characters is Shonda Rhimes, who regularly features black actors and actresses in lead roles on ABC’s Grey’s AnatomyPrivate Practice and Scandal.

Some may argue Perry’s series arguably reaffirm racial stereotypes, though, and that bringing them to OWN will only give them a bigger platform.

Which is better: reinforcing stereotypes or limiting several African-American actors and actresses to a token role on a show? That’s still up in the air. In the meantime, I’m still looking forward to the day when ABC’s The Bachelor or The Bachelorette features a person of color handing out roses.

 

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