Tyler Perry’s transition from TBS to OWN is as significant for him as it is for Oprah Winfrey’s cabler.
For Perry, he’ll have a chance to launch two new series set to debut in mid-2013. While not committed to star, he will exec produce, write and direct. OWN has committed to ordering the shows without going through the pilot process.
OWN did not disclose an episode order but it will likely be in the usual 10-13 range for cable scripted fare rather than the mega 100-episode orders that Perry has become accustomed to in working with TBS and syndie distributor Debmar-Mercury.
Perry and Winfrey have had a long relationship dating back to her days when talkshow “Oprah” was the dominant force in daytime. Discussions between the two began several months ago.
“Bringing Tyler Perry exclusively to OWN is a major coup,” said Discovery Communications president-CEO David Zaslav. “This demonstrates the power of the Oprah brand to attract some of the biggest names in television and film to OWN.”
Added Winfrey: “I have been looking forward to the day when we would be in the position to enter the world of scripted television. That day has come. We are all energized by the opportunity to collaborate with Tyler, who has a proven track record for producing highly successful cable series.”
Perry’s decision to pact with OWN indicates that his efforts to pursue the launch of his own cable net have been tabled, at least for now. He had been quietly pursuing possible acquisitions of existing channels last year in partnership with Lionsgate, which distributes Perry’s feature films. There was also talk that Perry might take over some or all of Lionsgate-owned TV Guide Network.
Winfrey’s struggles with OWN during its first 18 months has served as a cautionary tale illustrating how hard it is to build a network around a single entity, even one as prosperous as Winfrey or Perry.
Perry has fielded three series for TBS since 2007: “House of Payne,” “Meet the Browns” and “For Better or Worse.” He pioneered the so-called 10/90 distribution model with Debmar-Mercury in which the production of 100 episodes is accelerated if a test run of 10 episodes fares well, with the goal of getting to off-network syndication more quickly than the typical series. (At present Debmar-Mercury is not involved with the OWN series.)
In the end, Perry’s personal relationship with Winfrey and her cabler’s new ratings momentum — its third quarter numbers were up by double digits in viewers and key demos — convinced the hyphenate to plant his flag at OWN, Winfrey’s joint venture with Discovery.
“When you look at our ability going forward, scripted gives OWN a new type of storytelling for the brand, and it’s the right first step in that direction. It’s an indication of more things to come,” OWN co-prexy Erik Logan told Variety.
The racial breakdown of OWN’s audience is about 33% African-American and 33% Caucasian. Perry’s draw among African-American viewers should help the cabler gain more traction with black auds, as it has with such recent unscripted successes as “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.”
Discovery believes the current optimism surrounding OWN will result in more ad buys and higher revenues. The cost for scripted fare is much higher than for reality, but OWN execs believe the net can afford to shoulder those costs now.
Although both Perry series are scheduled to begin in 2013, the network wouldn’t divulge any information about their storylines. Net will have to move quickly in getting the shows into production. Each series is set to shoot at the studio facility that is part of Perry’s Atlanta headquarters.
“We’re looking at this with our eyes wide open,” Logan said. “With Tyler and Oprah collaborating, we think this can be special.”