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 A Few Tremors in Oprahland

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Registration date : 2008-01-20

PostSubject: A Few Tremors in Oprahland   Wed May 28, 2008 8:27 am

A Few Tremors in Oprahland

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Published: May 26, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Oprah Winfrey is still the queen of all media, but her crown is beginning to look a bit tarnished. Skip to next paragraph

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[/url]Left, Kevin Wolf/Associated Press; Right, top and bottom, George Burns/Harpo Productions

Oprah Winfrey, doyenne of daytime talk, has had a few lulls recently in her various media enterprises.

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[/url]George Burns/Harpo Productions

Ms. Winfrey’s public support of Senator Barack Obama for president may
have cost her support from white women backing Senator Hillary Clinton.

The average audience for “The
Oprah Winfrey Show” has fallen nearly 7 percent this year, according to
Nielsen Media Research — its third straight year of decline. “Oprah’s
Big Give,” an ABC philanthropic reality show, beat every program on
television except “American Idol”
in its premiere week this winter, but steadily lost nearly one-third of
its audience during the rest of its eight-week run, according to
Nielsen. The circulation of O, The Oprah Magazine, has fallen by more than 10 percent in the last three years, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the magazine is now seeking a new editor in chief after the announced retirement of its longtime steward, Amy Gross.And
while Ms. Winfrey still displays a Midas touch when it comes to the
endorsement of books and products, some of her latest picks have
attracted criticism from longtime fans as she has strayed into new-age
spiritualism and, perhaps more dangerously, politics. Her endorsement
of the presidential bid of Senator Barack Obama
appears to have alienated some of the middle-aged white women who make
up the bulk of her television audience, many of whom support Senator Hillary Clinton.“Not too long ago, she was like the pope,” rarely criticized by her
ardent supporters, said Janice Peck, an associate professor of mass
communication at the University of Colorado and the author of “The Age of Oprah,” a new book on Ms. Winfrey’s cultural influence.Since the endorsement, however, angry criticism of her political stance became a regular feature of the message boards on,
Ms. Peck said. “There are a lot of her fans who are not Democrats or
who support Hillary Clinton who feel betrayed,” she added.The
weaker ratings come as Ms. Winfrey is embarking on what is perhaps her
biggest project yet: the start-up of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a
cable channel being created jointly with Discovery Communications. Its
programming, though it will not include “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which
is under contract with current stations through 2010, will entirely
reflect Ms. Winfrey’s vision of what she calls empowering programming.Tim
Bennett, the president of Harpo Productions, Ms. Winfrey’s primary
business venture, said in an interview that all aspects of her business
are thriving and disputed the idea that her political endorsement had
caused problems. The audience for her daytime talk show, he noted,
remains roughly one-third larger than the next most popular competitor,
“Dr. Phil,” featuring Dr. Phil McGraw, who was introduced to the
talk-show world by Ms. Winfrey herself.Any drop in her
television ratings can be traced to general weakness in the overall
television audience, Mr. Bennett said. Her political endorsement, which
has never been highlighted on her syndicated talk show, has not
generated any negative feedback from the stations that broadcast the
program, he added.“Those stations pay us a lot of money for that
show, and if they felt she was doing anything that was diminishing the
mother lode, we would get a call saying, ‘Enough,’ ” Mr. Bennett said.
“We didn’t hear one iota of feedback.”Ms. Winfrey was in South
Africa last week and was unavailable for comment, her company said. She
was there interviewing candidates to oversee the Oprah Winfrey
Leadership Academy for Girls, a school she built and sponsors there.
That school itself generated negative publicity for Ms. Winfrey last
year, when a dorm matron at the school was accused of abusing six
students over four months. A trial of the former employee, who has
denied the abuse charges, is scheduled to start in July.Mr.
Bennett also disputes the idea that Ms. Winfrey might be suffering from
overexposure, even though she has recently expanded her empire with a
satellite radio show, a network-television Oscar special, and a deal
with Discovery Communications to start her new cable station.“I’ve never witnessed someone more in touch with the audience she serves,” he said. “She paces herself very well.”Both
Mr. Bennett and Stephen McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment,
said that a second season of “Oprah’s Big Give” would have been a
shoo-in for ABC’s prime-time lineup. “We loved that show and
absolutely would have loved to bring it back,” Mr. McPherson said,
addressing reporters this month at the announcement of ABC’s fall
schedule. “But it was something she didn’t want to do.”The first
episode of “Oprah’s Big Give” attracted 15.7 million viewers, according
to Nielsen, second that week only to “American Idol,” which drew about
27 million. But it averaged only 11.1 million viewers over eight weeks
and finished the season 32nd in total audience among all prime-time
programs.Ms. Winfrey’s daytime audience has also declined, to
about 7.3 million this year from 7.8 million a year ago and a peak of
nearly 9 million in the 2004-2005 season. (Those Nielsen figures
include viewers who record the show and watch it within seven days.) Robert Madden, a senior executive vice president at CBS Television Distribution, which oversees the syndication of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” said he is unworried by that decline.
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