Oprah sightings may become more frequent now that she and Tyler Perry have taken their relationship to the OWN level. Under an exclusive partnership, the Oprah Winfrey Network will be Perry’s “singular destination for all new television series and projects.” This includes two scripted shows scheduled to debut by midyear. The first, The Haves and the Have Nots, is based on a Perry play and will shoot here this spring.
“Bringing Tyler Perry exclusively to OWN is a major coup,” said David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications, which partnered with Winfrey’s Harpo Studios to form OWN. It’s also a move that should prove mutually beneficial. Despite Winfrey’s star wattage, OWN’s ratings have been iffy; to save the venture, Winfrey became more involved, assuming the role of CEO. Perry’s movies may be dismissed by critics as schlock, but they’ve been box-office gold. His TV track record is bumpier.
The multiyear deal represents OWN’s first venture into scripted TV as well as a move to target African American viewers. Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s‚ which chronicles the restaurant run by former Ike and Tina Turner backup singer Robbie Montgomery, has been one of OWN’s few ratings winners, and its greatest draw is black women—Perry’s billion-dollar demographic. Other successes include reality shows like Iyanla: Fix My Life and specials featuring Winfrey herself.
Perry’s previous TV partnership was with Atlanta-based TBS. The June 2007 premiere of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne attracted 5.9 million viewers, setting a basic-cable record. Perry followed that with Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, which relied more heavily on an African American audience. His most recent TBS series, For Better or Worse, premiered in late 2011 and has averaged 2.9 million viewers. TBS canceled both Payne and Browns and had no plans for original episodes of For Better or Worse beyond 2012.
Perry may find more patience at OWN. Black viewers have traditionally been good to struggling networks. Fox, which launched in 1986, largely sustained itself with the Martin Lawrence sitcom Martin and In Living Color, the Keenen Ivory Wayans sketch comedy show that launched the careers of Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx and featured “fly girls” Jennifer Lopez and Rosie Perez. With a 1996 lineup that included Brandy’s Moesha and Atlanta resident Steve Harvey’s self-titled show, UPN and the WB (now merged as the CW) followed Fox’s blueprint.
But don’t fret for Winfrey and Perry; they’re doing just fine. Perry ranked twentieth on the 2012 Forbes “Celebrity 100” list; Winfrey took the number two spot.
Photograph by Alan Light/Flickr. This article originally appeared in our January 2013 issue.