OWN Focuses On Our Community but What Took so Long?

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In the last few months The Oprah Winfrey Network has changed its direction in programming. The change, which has focused on African-American Women, has allowed OWN to become the number one viewing choice for the very same community on Saturday nights, but why did this change take so long to occur?

OWN, which debuted on January 1st, 2011, started with lack luster reviews. It’s primary shows such as “Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals”, “The Judds”, and “Why Not? With Shania Twain” featured Caucasian stars. The only people of color featured on the first season on OWN were Gayle King on “The Gayle King Show”, Lisa Ling with “Our America with Lisa Ling”, and various stars on “Oprah Presents Masters Class”. The network fell below Discovery Health Channel’s Network rating’s from the previous year, which caused a major modification for the network.

The new wave of programming installed “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”, a reality show staring former back-up singer and dancer to Ike and Tina Turner, Robbie Montgomery and her family. This became an instant hint for the network, and made Oprah realize where her true strength can be found, in the homes of African-American women.

The success of Sweetie Pie’s allowed for the final wave of programing, which extensively focused on black women, to be aired. These shows were a mix of reality television shows and scripted programing. Reality shows included “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, “Life with LaToya”, and “Raising Whitley”. Scripted Programming included two original programs from Tyler Perry, “The Haves and the Have Nots” and “Love Thy Neighbor”, and a pick-up of “Tyler Perry’s For Better of for Worse”, which originally aired on TBS.

These new programs have ignited a change at OWN, and increased viewership by twelve percent as compared to last year, but why did this change in focus take so long to occur?

The changes at OWN probably took time to occur because Oprah did not want OWN to be viewed as a strictly African-American Network. If Oprah announced outright that her network would focus primarily on African-American’s she would have lost potential viewership of other racial groups and the chance to be compared to top networks such as Bravo, and E! Network. It’s not that she abandoned the African-American community, but wanted her network to be place where everyone could find a story they could relate to. It is also important to note that the Oprah Winfrey Network is partially owned by Discovery Communications.

The dramatic changes at OWN have allowed the network to be a place where everyone can relate to some form of programming, but also be a place where the stories of African-American Women can really be told.

However, I hope OWN can realize that there is still room for improvement and that programs that focus on younger African-American Women should be included. Programs that focus on this group are absent from the network. Every series that is featured on OWN that features a woman, features a woman above the age of 30. The voice of the young African-American woman, and the voice of the young woman are absent.

The OWN Network and Miss Winfrey began to fill this void with the premiere of “Dark Girls”, a documentary focusing on the dichotomy of skin tones within and outside the black community, on Sunday, June 23. This proves that the Miss Winfrey is not afraid of change and growth.

Tatiana M. Brown is a native of Washington, D.C. who is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. She will graduate early in December 2014. Follow her @TatianaMBrown or check out her website, or contact her at tatiana@forharriet.com

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