Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey: Want To Fix Your TV Network? Here’s How


Dear Oprah:

First, let me begin with a shallow and totally unrelated issue to the Oprah Television Network (OWN): Miss Lady, your hair is always hooked and fabulous and Andre is A Beauty Genius. I’ve always wanted to tell you that. Now that I have, let me move on.

Oprah, I read about your concerns for OWN today in The Huffington Post . Apparently, viewership isn’t what you had hoped for in the first year of your network. However, you have vowed to continue with OWN, which makes me really happy. As far as I know, you’re the only African American woman who ever started a television network. But I was more than a bit concerned when you mentioned that you didn’t want OWN to become “the Roots network”—meaning a Black network.

That statement of yours confused me. First, it implies that there’s something wrong with starting a network focused on African Americans. Second, it implies that African Americans don’t watch television—a lot.

But let me try to get past my hurt Black feelings to your colorblind financial realism in this matter: you want a TV network that appeals to a “mainstream” audience so you can make money. This means you have to attract White viewers, and so, the logic goes, if you attract White viewers, the rest will come. “Rest,” meaning “people of color.”

I hear you, Miss Lady. Your logic certainly worked with your germinal talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Every woman—and a lot of men—that I knew watched your show five days a week. We had to; otherwise, we’d miss what everyone was talking about the next day. And we couldn’t have that.

I started watching back in college in 1987, and I was a loyal follower for about 15 years. And then— let me be frank—I just got tired of your being rich.

Oprah, I don’t mean to “throw shade.” Your show was revolutionary. I loved it. I credit you with changing American society, and this is no flattery. For example, your show moved the dialogue about sexual abuse out of the closet. In addition, your featuring openly gay and lesbian folks on your show also started a much needed tolerance dialogue.

But in later years, I got tired of episodes featuring 1000-count sheets and lobster paella and whatnot. And even though I greatly admired your humanitarian work, I just couldn’t connect anymore. And one of the reasons is that I didn’t feel as if you were talking to everyone in your audience. Honestly, I thought that, with a few exceptions, you were only talking to White women.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those Black folks who define “blackness” within very narrow boundaries. I know there are African Americans who occupy many different categories. We all don’t fit into one box. Still, I didn’t feel very, well, noticed in the last years of your show. And so—gulp—I stopped watching.

But wait, Oprah! There’s a good ending to this!

While I stopped watching you on TV, I still had to get my Oprah fix. You’d become part of my life—entered my DNA, even. So, I started reading O Magazine. At first, I’d just pick up an issue on the newsstand. In the southwestern, conservative area I live in, there are very few magazines offered with African Americans on the cover. I’d be in the grocery or drug store and see the magazine and my heart would give a little jump. “There’s Oprah!” I’d exclaim (to myself so I didn’t look crazy.)

Then, I got hooked on O and decided to subscribe, and I’ve never regretted it. And let me tell you why.

O is a truly multicultural magazine—but it doesn’t make a big deal about “diversity” or draw attention to it. It’s not billed that way; it just is that way. I see ads featuring women of color alongside ads featuring White women—classy, not stereotypical ads. And I read articles written by women of all complexions telling me it’s okay to be strong, healthy, successful, whether I’m married, single, child-free or a mother.

And not only that, you present women of all ages, not just stick-thin model-girls who got their periods three years ago. (Not that we didn’t all have to start menstruating at some point, but I’m closer to menopause than training bras now, so I don’t want to be reminded of that unfortunate time when I didn’t know the tampon applicator didn’t go up there, too.)

O Magazine is off the chain, Oprah.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I’m saying that you need to make OWN less like your talk show in its last years and more like your magazine in its present years.

Look, Sister, I know you need to make your money. I’m not trying to mess up your hustle. I’m not asking for television charity for Negroes. I know in order for you to create a financially successful network you need to attract White viewers, in the same way you needed to do that for your talk show. I’m not saying that demographic isn’t important. But I am saying that Native American, Latina/Hispanic, Black and Asian women need and want programming, too, and many of us have cable television subscriptions.

Oprah, women of color are an extremely untapped market in television viewing. We  want woman-first programming—and we want it to be classy and sensitive. We don’t want to see ourselves stereotyped. But we don’t have that programming yet. You could give us that, in the same matter-of-fact, calm manner that you give us what we need with magazine reading–and you could have your White viewers as well.

In the same way that you transformed the talk show, I’m positive you could transform the way a cable television network is run. Oprah, you have the vision, the determination—and let’s keep it real, the deep pockets.  You got this, Miss Lady.

Love, your  imaginary friend and actual fan,
Honorée

.

.

17 thoughts on “Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey: Want To Fix Your TV Network? Here’s How

  1. I understand that “Sweetie Pie’s” is one of the highest rated shows on OWN. I like and respect Ms. Robbie and her son, Tim. She’s expanding her “soul food” restaurants and still going strong at 70+. I can’t help but wonder if Oprah was thinking of BET when she made the statement about not wanting to be viewed as “The Roots network”. Your recommendations are well stated and your comparison to her successful magazine O as a blueprint–may give her some pause to reconsider the direction of her network.

  2. Kudos. Right to the heart of the matter. I hope she will listen. Also, she needs tor remember that it was black people, not mainstream America that brought her BMF, T.P. from sleeping in the back of a Pinto(exaggeration) to be driven around in a Bently. Build it and we will come.

  3. Dear Ms. Winfrey,

    I’m a Black Man and I wanted the reading audience to know that because my comments come from an opinion of a “Fan” base I don’t believe you know about. Yes, we’re out here and we support you because “You” Did It Your Way! Most of Us would have loved to be a part of your business trip, but that just didn’t happen. However, We can be a part of OWN being what you want it to be. Just produce and promote some of the things we want to see. We want a reflection of who we Black Men are in all the diversity we cover.

    I also believe that You should have a component part of Your OWN that introduces coming talent in a few business fields. I know you can do what you’ve done for Authors of books in fashion, entrepreneur creative things, artist, over forty crowd pleasing things, and I could go on. Maybe, You should call in a group of Us with Creditable Constructive Points of View as OWN “Brainstormers” so we can assist in moving your Network to the level of both of Our Dreams. Success on a “Grand Scale” was done once and I believe a repeat performance is definitely in the Planning! Give those who “Love” You from a far, the chance to know you up close as We work on collaborations. Ideas are a terrible thing to waste!

    In concluding, everyone has an angle that includes what they say and what they would like OWN the Network, Radio Show, and the Magazine to do. We folk are mostly looking out for loved ones in our family of friends. In my case, I would love my wife Joan, a sewing and design Diva to get a shot by designing some outfits for Your Staff and You. A chance is what separates those who are successful from many who just haven’t gotten across that bridge to the next level. Those talented individuals and companies just need the kind of push the OWN Network can supply. I believe what I’m saying if done is a Win Win situation for OWN and those chosen!

    Happy Kwanzaa Season and Happy New Year,

    Brother Zachary C. Husser, Community Organizer

    Note: Take a look at http://www.eagleacademyfoundation.org as another example of bringing great movements to Your Public and You.

  4. On another level, I truly believe bringing not discovered talent through your Network is a winner. Take a look at Artoni Fletcher and his creative genius as seen through http://www.c2posse.com for the teaching and educating of OUR youth! Give some new perspective the chance to explode for OWN and the Opportunity seekers! Your legacy is historic, but like You, I believe there is another level for You to challenge and be successful in. I believe this challenge you’re taking on because I’m a long time “Supporter” of what you have done for twenty years or more!

  5. Despite the saccharin sweet kudos and over-abundance of “Miss Lady’s” – the author hit on the proverbial “if it was a snake, it woulda bit you” point. Verbatim duplication of “The Oprah Winfrey” is not and never will be the right formula to grow a network. A network is 24/7. You can only stand so much of the “Drs. Oz and Phil” type programs before the gag factor clicks in. “O” Magazine’s perfect diversity model was so obvious, I suppose, that they clearly just missed it’s value as a template for the success of the network. I’d like to see the author’s key points incorporated in the OWN programming grid. I’m sure American women (and men) of the 21st century will swarm in. I also read “O” on occasion. It’s excellent and it gives men who. appreciate exceptional women, good insight into women who think and are self-empowered.

    • Hey Mr. Tiger:

      Thank you so much for reading! FYI, it’s not saccharin–it’s actual sugar, because I love Oprah. I mean really, really, really love her. (Like really.) She’s my hero, she’s a genius, and she’s rich.:-) I hope I can both adore her and give constructive criticism, though. Isn’t that what (imaginary) friends do?

      Pax,
      HFJ

      PS “Miss Lady” is a well-used phrase below the Mason Dixon line in African American communities. Try it some time. It works wonders.:-)

  6. I loved your article and agree with a lot of what was stated. I too have routinely clicked on the OWN network hoping that a light would have clicked on and that diversity in thought would transfer to shows that would take me away from reality tv and other mindless shows. While some of the shows have been great, I too looked for Oprah to share what she stated in her initial interview about OWN. I imagined it being like the O magazine on television but through her experiences while offering television shows that were not from years past and overflows of Dr. Phil.

    What I have appreciated about Oprah is that she has introduced a great deal to television and I somehow believed that there would be a new wave of tv technology that translated to new ways of watching television or developing shows. I think that the expectations were high for everyone and we are waiting on the next idea bigger than sliced bread.

    What I will challenge Oprah to do is to think outside the box and introduce some of the concepts that people are asking her to share. I’m not expecting it to be a black channel, but I don’t think that shows geared towards the needs of women of color should be excluded because of skewed perception. I’m a big Oprah fan and I look forward to seeing something different in 2012.

  7. Well done, Ms.Jeffers. I agree with both examples–the early show and the current magazine.

    And, as far as not wanting to create “the Roots network” I have one question–why not?

    I’m very close to Oprah’s age and I can remember the beginning of the Fox network and UPN. Both of them had a large percentage of shows that would interest the very loyal Black American audience. I remember reading and commenting on articles about the their not so subtle change to a teenage white audience after they were successful. It worked for them, why shouldn’t you use it too.

    But I do hope you’ll keep us on the schedule after things start going well. If you need writers, please drop me a line. There’s a long line of us out here with great ideas and product.

  8. Very interesting post and points Sis! I, too hope it makes its way to Oprah. One thing: I do love O magazine, (can’t throw the damn things out!) but it could be more diverse still.

  9. Hey Miss Fanonne! I read that post and flinched as well. Yet….
    Something comes to mind: Oprah may have been speaking in code. If we are ultra objective, (which is hard for black folks) we have to admit that a “Roots” network would never work in modern day America. So she tossed out that code word, to reassure her “folks”, all clandestine like a female Spook sitting by the door.

    But if you look at her philanthropy, you have to say she’s got a whole lot of Binta, Kizzy and the rest of those Roots ladies all up in her spirit! It seems that in order to become a Bazillionaire in modern day America, you have to compromise in just the right place. Give them what they want, so you can get what you need. Oprah’s a master because she negotiated the terms of this compromise.

    Now she’s in the position to build schools in South Africa, pay full tuitions for 400+ black men to Morehouse, build entire communities for black folks left homeless after Katrina, and a host of all kinds of stuff we know nothing of. She’s helped countless black people worldwide. We may not get to see a reality show of this philanthropy, but we dont need to.

    Oprah knew exactly what she was doing, and still does.

  10. Miss Honoree – I too enjoyed reading your letter and the positive suggestions. I hadn’t watched the Oprah Show for at least 6-8 years before it closed and I don’t read the magazine, although you make it sound readable now, because I couldn’t afford one single thing in the magazine. I felt that she absolutely had no connection with the middle-class (think we are still around, barely) black or white woman! I will give her magazine a glance next time I see it and if it has changed, I may buy a copy.

    Great posting :-)

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