How Tyler Perry Helped Oprah Winfrey Save Her Television Network

Recently we talked about how Tyler Perry has become a major entertainment mogul in America, based on leveraging his personal writings into stage shows that ultimately became movies and television shows. Having been influenced by Oprah Winfrey as a young adult, he eventually met her and appeared on her show to promote his film Madea’s Family Reunion. That led to a professional relationship that included the 2 of them (along with others) helping get the Oscar-winning film Precious released in 2009.

And what can I tell you about Oprah Winfrey that you don’t already know (or that she hasn’t already told you herself)? Queen of Daytime for 25 years. Oscar-nominated for her role in The Color Purple. Her own monthly magazine. Media mogul through her Harpo Productions of such television shows as Rachel Ray, Dr. Phil, The Dr. Oz Show, the late, lamented Nate Berkus Show and the disaster that was The Rosie Show.

In 2011, after planning since 2008 and seemingly non-stop publicity during 2010, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) launched as a round-the-clock cable channel. Timed to coincide with the end of her own talk show, her first and most ambitious project was Behind the Scenes: The Oprah Show Final Season which showed all the backstage machinations and drama that sometimes ensued in putting together a single episode of Oprah’s talk show. From dealing with late-arriving or diva-like guests to how Oprah’s favorite things were selected for the annual episode, the 25-episode reality-like show featured Oprah and much of her staff.

Other reality shows were introduced as well, to less fanfare and success. There was a reality show about Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and the problems she’s had over the years emotionally and financially. A particularly painful show to watch was a behind-the-scenes look at Ryan O’Neal and his estranged daughter, Academy-Award winning actress Tatum O’Neal, as they tried to reconcile and get over their differences and move forward with their relationship.

But after these types of shows had run their course, OWN started to feature more and more recycled shows. Re-runs of Dr. Phil and The Nate Berkus Show and even Dateline became staples on the network. And Oprah’s appearances on the network became fewer and fewer. As it turns out, people tuning in to watch OWN wanted to see Oprah.

OWN, which is jointly owned by Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, has finally turned a corner and made a profit for the first time in its history in the second quarter 2013. Some of this can be attributed to (according to a great analysis done by the New York Times) staff layoffs and canceling the aforementioned Rosie O’Donnell show, which was not only ill-conceived but very expensive to operate. And some of it can also be attributed to Oprah appearing more often on OWN through shows like Oprah: Where Are They Now? (featuring updates on former Oprah show guests), Oprah’s Next Chapter (hour-long interviews with celebrities, the most recent being Lindsay Lohan) and Oprah’s Master Class (a story-telling show featuring people Oprah has determined are “masters” at their craft, including Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier and Tom Brokaw).

But what has seemingly had the most impact is the new partnership between Winfrey and Tyler Perry. In the fall of 2012, Perry and OWN came to an agreement that all future Tyler Perry television productions would be featured on OWN exclusively (with Perry getting a small piece of OWN in return). As we talked about in our article on Tyler Perry, his new content on OWN (so far limited to 2 shows, The Haves and the Have Nots and Love Thy Neighbor, which he executive produces, writes and directs) has a built-in fan base from his prior television shows and movies and have scored incredibly high ratings on OWN.

This is what happens when 2 of the major players in the entertainment world collaborate to give both of their mutual audiences what they want. Expect to see Oprah and Tyler Perry (and OWN) continue to see their ratings grow.