After hearing reports that OWN ratings have suffered since its inception, I decided to investigate the matter. Not because I care, I don’t like Oprah anyway. But, I had already formed an opinion as to why the network might be failing and I wanted to see if I was right.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Oprah. Even when I was too young to articulate it (children and animals know), there was something that didn’t sit right with me about Oprah that has carried over into adulthood. But, we won’t go into that because I want to keep this analysis void of emotion and focus on what I truly think Oprah is doing wrong when it comes to OWN.
I’ve come across several articles that have speculated as to why the network might be struggling. Reasons varying from lack of original programming to too much Oprah seem to be valid and worth pondering. I knew O Magazine was “all Oprah, all the time, but I didn’t think she’d go the same route with her channel. I was wrong. It’s as if she thought if she didn’t plaster her face on every crevice of her website, we might actually think we had landed on the wrong site. After all, I know lots of people, especially celebrities, named Oprah. There were so many images of her, I thought I’d turn it into a game. I counted 16, yes 16 images of Oprah on the OWN website homepage alone! [see how many images of Oprah you can find here] It’s outlandish. The same can be discovered by perusing O Magazine, another ode to Oprah, by Oprah and for Oprah, because the people surely don’t want it.
Aside from Oprah overkill, I think the main reason the OWN network is failing is because of the lack of diversity (Note: Typically, when a Black person talks about a lack of diversity, we are referring to a lack of Black people). Call me crazy, but I just find it odd that a Black woman owns a network that is seriously lacking Black on-air talent. I had to get to the bottom of this. So, I decided to check out her casting page to see what I could find. Who knows, maybe I would submit my reel, get lucky and become the next “big thing.” Imagine my disappointment when the page (aside from MORE pictures of Harpo) displayed nothing but images of white people or white body parts. It certainly didn’t make me feel welcome to submit my story or avail myself of the opportunity to audition for an OWN show. As a matter of fact, I felt as though she really wouldn’t want someone like me on her network period. If she did, she’d post images that would attract people that look like me.
Interestingly enough, I worked in the Diversity Department at a major entertainment company that shall remain nameless. Diversity initiatives were established at most major networks years ago to ensure that people of color were not being overlooked for job opportunities on-camera or behind the scenes. Often, we had to convince the “powers-that-be” that a successful network should have diverse programming, complete with diverse casts and writers, as well as, directors and producers, and that it was necessary to have a person or department to see to it that these initiatives were accomplished. The effectiveness of such a department isn’t in question, but the mere fact that Oprah has to be educated about the importance of diversity is just sad.
What’s also laughable is that her target audience is women, ages 25-54. What 25 year old, or woman of any age wants to see a reality show about infidelity (Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal)? In this day and age, infidelity is a part of all our lives, whether you are the cheater or the cheatee. So, why would anyone want to hear someone else’s sob story? We’ve got our own problems! I don’t want to hear about someone else’s experiences with infidelity unless it’s about the consequences (on Snapped) or it’s a dear friend of mine who needs a shoulder to cry on. Furthermore, shows starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal (whoever they are), and her BFF, Gayle “didn’t-she-already-have-a-talk-show-that-failed” King aren’t exactly Must-See TV.
I believe if Oprah ups the diversity and goes from “all Oprah, all the time” to “no Oprah, some of the time,” OWN will see a significant increase in ratings. Sure, you can maintain a show with such a narrow focus, but a channel has to appeal to a much broader audience, otherwise it’s doomed to fail.