Oprah, Tyler Perry: A Media Marriage of Their OWN

Tyler Perry's "The Haves and Have

For Oprah Winfrey and her eponymous network, it’s a long way from “Live your best life” to “Throw on Tyler Perry shows and hope something sticks.”

Winfrey might be a big fan of Perry’s work — she certainly sounded that way during an “Oprah’s Master Class” segment devoted to him that was repeated, helpfully, after the two-hour premiere Tuesday of his new primetime soap, “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Still, it’s hard to believe a trashy, cut-rate serial — with production values that make a traditional daytime soap look like “The Avengers” — was what she had in mind when she embarked on her own branded network, OWN.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, neither “The Haves and Have Nots” nor Perry’s latest sitcom, “Tyler Perry’s Love Thy Neighbor,” which premieres May 29, were made available in advance, extending a strategy Perry has employed in not screening his movies for critics.

And after getting a whiff of the “Have Nots” premiere, it’s not hard to figure out why. Shot entirely on interiors within his Atlanta studios, the Perry written, produced and directed program — about a wealthy family and their servants, including the scheming daughter (Tika Sumpter) of a new maid, played by Crystal Fox — was almost claustrophobically cheap, not to mention poorly written and indifferently acted. Every twist was telegraphed, perhaps in part because scenes dragged on interminably. (The network also began running a countdown clock for “Love They Neighbor,” which might be the silliest use of a countdown clock, well, ever.)

Granted, it would be sort of nice if the U.S. could produce its own “Downton Abbey,” and there’s an itch for soaps that various networks (including ABC’s “Mistresses” and Lifetime’s “Devious Maids,” both premiering this month) are eager to scratch. But “Have Nots” might actually be the best positioned for the long haul — not because it’s good, but rather thanks to the combination of OWN’s modest expectations and Perry’s ability to deliver something that vaguely resembles a TV show on a micro-budget. (UPDATE: The premiere attracted 1.8 million viewers, per Nielsen data, modest in the bigger scheme of things, but the highest-rated series debut in the channel’s history. Winfrey’s Lance Armstrong interview, by way of comparison, averaged 3.2 million viewers.)

Getting pilloried by critics is nothing new for Perry, but he has a loyal following and a clear desire to keep expanding his empire. What he has lacked, largely, is much in the way of respect.

In that sense, aligning himself with Winfrey gives him much more than simply a lot of basic-cable real-estate with which to play. The network loaded the premiere with promos featuring both Perry and Winfrey towering above the OWN logo, bestowing the kind of Oprah seal of approval that once launched a thousand (or at least a few dozen) literary bestsellers.

One has to wonder, though, just how many compromises Winfrey will wind up having to make to put OWN on a path to success. Because in the early going, the channel was about more than just ratings, but advancing the former syndicated titan’s larger mission of self-empowerment. Surf OWN today, and while Winfrey has a more expansive presence (her relative absence being a huge mistake when the venture launched), there’s not much to separate what some feared would be “broccoli TV” from the shenanigans on Bravo or WE.

During their interview, Perry dismissed criticism of his work — including, as Winfrey noted, from some African-Americans — as simply “the difficulty of blazing a trail.”

But Winfrey was the one truly determined to blaze a trail — championing a case, by virtue of the rapport she had established with her daytime audience, that the power of her persona could sell and nurture a more elevated brand of television.

Almost exactly two years ago, I wondered whether leaving her syndicated show would “herald a bright future, or her diminution as a cultural and media force? Counting Oprah out would be silly, but given a choice, here’s a qualified bet on the latter.”

Whatever OWN’s future, if its first scripted drama from Perry is in any way indicative of the network’s direction or becomes one of its staples, historians will be able to trace the time that trail flamed out to right around May 28.

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  1. Earnest says:

    Tyler needs 2 pick up the pace. I really like him but he is dragging all of his shows on and on! Maybe he had 2 many irons in the fire. It makes no sense 2 drag a series on for 6 or 7 episodes and then have to wait months for the new one. Come on Tyler, leave us in suspense for months and now we are still hanging by the cliff 4 weeks later. I REALLY like u and have a lot of respect but I’m almost at the point of giving up on all of them, If Loving U is Wrong, HAHN, Why Did I Gey Married? Love thy Neighbor is a Joke!!! Bad acting all around! Ur movies r great! Perhaps that is ur calling. I’m trying 2 hang n there with u, but its getting hard! Don’t keep playing ur loyal fans like this! Peace!

  2. FRIDA says:

    This show makes Univision novellas look like Citizen Kane. I can still smell the stench of it in my living room nearly a week later. OWN is a huge disappointment and Winfrey has clearly lost her mind, her good sense, and any class she might have had.

  3. vincent says:

    when does this STOP being about color and start being about craft and talent?….. it’s just stupid to even bring up the words “African American” when it comes to artistry….. (unless it applies) We can have opinions about directors, actors, singers, dancers but when someone like Tyler Perry is judged we have to agree with the masses or it would appear that we are hating the race….. so silly. I’m not a TP fan but I have respect for him… I wished he would listen to others and try to grow from that…. the formula isn’t working anymore…..

  4. Mary Roberts says:

    While I enjoyed the show I do think both could be damaging to the Oprah brand. They are low budget, classless and tasteless but highly entertaining with all the stereotypes of the black woman as the whore or the maid and the one black judge with the closeted gay son. What you have to understand that white folks can play any type of role because more often than not they are reflected in a positive light. For black folks we have always been portrayed in a negative light so we have a lot of making up to do before we can act a fool and not feed into the negative stereotype.

  5. matthew says:

    You know what they say about critics! Out of all of what folks got to say, can any of you name one person doing what these two are doing. You want better create better, that’s a lesson from OWN! FYI I didn’t like the show either but im not at their level to even criticize what they do!

    • Jason says:

      You can criticize anything you want to. If you don’t like something, say something. Not everyone can make a T.V. show, but anyone with an internet access can tell these people how bad their show or film is, and they should want that criticism so they can make their project better. Just because these people make millions of dollars they should be immune to any criticism? That’s how we ended up with Star Wars episode 1-3 being so terrible. And in response to your question, the Wayans brothers, Jamie Foxx and D.L. Hughley did what these two are doing and they did it while being funny.

  6. Debra says:

    I agree with most of what the critic said, especially the technical flaws and inferior writing. It reeks of being “thrown together”. I expect more from Oprah. She spent decades encouraging us to expect more and to be discriminating when it comes to what we allow in our lives and energy space. She built a fan base around that. Now, we end up with inferior programming, far outside her teachings—and it’s okay because Tyler Perry is behind it and black actors are being employed?? Nonsense! Does anyone remember ‘Lightning’? He was a paid black actor who shuffled his way into a few Cadillacs, dollars, and women. Need I say more?

    I’m losing respect for Oprah. (Never had any for Tyler Perry.)

    • carole arnold says:

      Oh, brother. Oprah obviously has a thing for Tyler Perry who continues to offer inferior products that insult all people’s intelligence. The never ending promos Including Tyler himself saying how funny his show is are pathetic. So far, the only watchable thing on OWN are the reruns of Dateline.
      It’s nice that Perry has a big house and a studio. Too bad that he doesn’t do something creative.

  7. Cindy says:

    When critics follow network to demeanor work of a genius. You mean a person who try to persuade others to jump on the bandwagon with their distrAught opinion. You should follow another network that tickled your fantasy. Thumbs up for Tyler!!

  8. Keran says:

    So because we are desperate to see ourselves on screen, we are forever subject to accept anything no matter what the artistic quality is? Surely you know that Hangover is not Casablanca. Yet somehow, you think Tyler Perry should be given value because he is hiring black folks? McDonald’s technically feeds black folks too but does that mean that those quarter pounders wont result in the high health risks found in the black community? Have we really drunk the koolaid?

  9. keepnitreal says:

    I loved everything about have nots and love thy neighbor…..people need to remember to loosen up and have fun sometimes…we need it! Can’t wait to see more

  10. Joyce Evans says:

    HELLO MY NAME IS JOYCE AND I LOVE THE BOTH OF YOU. I AM WITH CABLE ONE.NET AND I CAN’T FIND THE OWN CHANEL, SO I MISSED THE HAVE AND HAVE NOT. WOULD YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHAT CHANNEL I NEED TO GO TO. I AM VERY PROUD OF BOTH OF YOU AND WHAT YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED. MAY GOD CONTINUE TO BLESS YOU.

  11. J Baby says:

    This was a good premiere of show that is not any different from shows on WE, HBO, Lifetime, etc. I can hardly wait until the next episode.

  12. Lashema Kuykendall says:

    I love this show i have been waiting for it to come on and it finally did love love love it

  13. jake says:

    Winfrey might be a big fan of Perry’s work — she certainly sounded that way during an “Oprah’s Master Class” segment devoted to him that was repeated, helpfully, after the two-hour premiere Tuesday of his new primetime soap, “The Haves and the Have Nots.”

    That was NOT “Oprah’s Master Class.” It was “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”

  14. If you think Scott`s story is something,, a month ago my cousins friend who’s a single mom basically made $8733 workin sixteen hours a week from home and their buddy’s step-aunt`s neighbour has been doing this for 9-months and got a cheque for more than $8733 part time at there mac. follow the instructions here, Bow6.com

  15. erika meredith says:

    I love, love, love the show and am looking forward to the next.

  16. medex says:

    Two powerful blacks team up (oprah and perry) and the media gets out their claws. So sick and predictable.

  17. Miss Renee says:

    What is “claustrophobically cheap, not to mention poorly written” are the views and reviews written by this critic. You can’t handle success!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. david says:

    What your distorted rant was designed to do was negate any traction Oprah appeared to be gaining. Critics can suppress creativity and tarnish dependent minds. But to those, independent thinkers, who are willing to step out of their comfort zone, you go Oprah, they achieve personal satifaction of reducing the puppet masters control and power. People watch and like what resembles them. Maybe we should just protest the media until we get a balanced picture–one most resembling America. The haves and have nots brought to much light to most peoples reality. It revealed truth that prosperity and disparity plagues us all. Then too it showcased our sins! Tyler has learnt a power tactic control your crtics, no pre-screen–let viewers vote with their choice.

  19. david says:

    What your distorted rant was designed to do was negate any traction Oprah appeared to be gaining. Critics can suppress creativity and tarnish dependent minds. But to those, independent thinkers, who are willing to step out of their comfort zone, you go Oprah, they achieve personal satifaction of reducing the puppet masters control and power. People watch and like what resembles them. Maybe we should just protest the media until we get a balanced picture–one most resembling America. The haves and have nots brought to much light to most peoples reality. It revealed truth that prosperity and disparity plagues us all. Then too it showcased our sins!

  20. Sone says:

    So, JCS, what if you do understand Tyler Perry’s messages and your not an “uneducated black ghetto dweller” or does it really mean that the messages he sends via film/ tv was not written nor created or designed for your spiritual intellectual understanding.
    But thank you for knowing the mind of an “uneducated black ghetto dweller” since you
    must live,work or associate yourself with this image of people, being the sociologist like yourself that studies ” uneducated black ghetto dwellers”. Thank you for that uneducated,racist, classicism response. You definitely speak for Americas mainstream. Thank you .

  21. T says:

    Enough Said! Amen.

  22. JCS says:

    You obviously have to be an uneducated black ghetto-dweller to understand anything Perry does.

  23. M. Kelly says:

    Brian, How in the world do you have a job as a critic. This has to be one of the WORST written article’s I’ve seen in a long time. You were all over the board with your opinion and you went on and on and on, I lost interest pretty quickly since it wasn’t cohesive and didn’t make any sense…you really should THANK Variety for your luck.

  24. Sone says:

    Brian, Brian, Brian !

    Let us know when you complete your pilot for an African Americans premier on ABC,NBC. Be sure to post the casting. Until then pray for your own success because your article reads rushed and scrambled.

    Good Luck BRIAN.

  25. sparklingcitygirl says:

    Tyler Perry is hiring African American actors and putting African American production and crew people to work! I ask you—what are YOU, or anyone else doing for African Americans in the entertainment industry? Nothing but criticizing. I applaud Tyler for every new piece of work he delivers. I applaud Oprah for working together with Tyler and believing in the big picture in every way. We all expected the criticism to come. What we LOVE is the boldness of Tyler to keep producing TV and film no matter what the critics say–the courage to keep living his dream, and his die hard intention to keep believing in that audience that very much believes in him. Thank you Tyler for filling that void in the otherwise lily white entertainment industry. Thank you Oprah for being the courageous, thoughtful, brilliant and beautiful soul that you are!

    • Keran says:

      So because we are desperate to see ourselves on screen, we are forever subject to accept anything no matter what the artistic quality is? Surely you know that Hangover is not Casablanca. Yet somehow, you think Tyler Perry should be given value because he is hiring black folks? McDonald’s technically feeds black folks too but does that mean that those quarter pounders wont result in the high health risks found in the black community? Have we really drunk the koolaid?

    • Jason says:

      PREACH!!! I need to quote this every time someone tries to come for Tyler lmao

    • T says:

      Enough Said! Amen.

  26. tj jones says:

    OWN IS HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION WITH THIS.
    LOVED IT
    GREAT JOB TYLER
    MR CRITIC IS NOT A SOAP WATCHER

  27. grace says:

    eFF all you haters.

    • Kesha says:

      It thought the show was pretty good and I don’t usually watch Tyler Perry sitcoms. As far as visuals, it’s a soap opera; it’s supposed to be a little off. Though Terry told us the history of the characters instead of letting them reveal itself I believe it’s a good look for the OWN Network. Keep it up Tyler

      • lala says:

        I agree it get so tired of people criticizing his work. I really enjoy the show it’s a step in the right direction so maybe we can get these dumb reality tv shows off the air. Tyler keep doing what you do the people are going to continue to hate I think its a couple of Spike Lee’s on here talking everything do need to have a meaning its entertainment.

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