Just this week OWN, the cable network founded by talk show icon Oprah Winfrey, announced the renewal of three of its top reality shows: Iyanla: Fix My Life, starring Iyanla Vanzant; Life with La Toya, starring La Toya Jackson; and Raising Whitley, starring Kim Whitley, which all feature black women at the center. Eric Logan, president of OWN, credited each show with increasing the network’s ratings overall and propelling the once-struggling cable station to the No. 1 viewing choice for African-American women on Saturday nights.
But oh, what a difference two years can make. When OWN debuted in 2011 a amid much fanfare, the weekly lineup had little in common with its current offerings. Names like Shania Twain, Sarah Ferguson, The Judds, and Rosie O’Donnell were the famous faces being touted as Winfrey and team tried to recapture the mainstream and very diverse audience she’d enjoyed for nearly 20 years on her hugely successful The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Winfrey’s decisions on programming were questioned by some, including me, who wondered why a network owned by an African-American woman would feature so few. To be fair, Winfrey’s BBF Gayle King was given an early-morning show, but that barely counts and didn’t last very long. Was it Winfrey’s plan to get OWN on firm ground with a locked-in mainstream audience before introducing shows with a more diverse cast? Or was this really Winfrey’s “world-view,” as one of her former network’s heads suggested when I posed the lack of diversity question?