The dismissal of longtime Oprah Winfrey confidant and OWN exec VP Lisa Erspamer means the cabler still hasn’t found its mojo — and corporate owner Discovery might be losing patience.
Erspamer, who had been by Winfrey’s side for 18 years but had no network experience, was fired because OWN has fallen hugely short of expectations when it was launched a year ago.
While many thought fans of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” would automatically follow her brand to OWN, that simply hasn’t been the case. In May 2011, the exec shuffle began when CEO Christina Norman was let go and replaced by Peter Liguori.
Erspamer’s specialty was with her relationships with celebrities, nurtured while she was on “Oprah.” She arrived a full year before the network debut and was instrumental in getting reality skeins “The Judds” and “Why Not? With Shania Twain” on the air. Yet, as with most series on OWN, neither one failed to ignite.
Parent company Discovery has ponied up $300 million so far, with little return on its investment, and the Maryland-based conglom may be making personnel decisions with more authority than ever before.
Replacing Erspamer on an interim basis is Discovery vet Rita Mullin, who is senior VP of content strategy for Discovery Fit & Health and will continue in that role. She also played a large part in a handful of TLC hits, including “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” and there’s hope that she can steady the ship at OWN before the net finds a permanent replacement.
Currently on staff as a consultant is former network chief Susanne Daniels, who previously ran the WB and Lifetime. It’s unclear whether Daniels would be interested in taking on greater responsibilities at OWN.
Winfrey, who delegated much of the responsibility when it came to launching OWN, has become more hands-on in recent months and is working with presidents Erik Logan and Sheri Salata to find a winning mix of programs. One of the few bright spots has been “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” which is off to a healthy start with an average 924,000 viewers tuning in each week.
And there’s also docuseries “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” about the goings-on at a St. Louis restaurant.
Missing the mark, however, is the much higher-profile “The Rosie Show,” with Rosie O’Donnell. The talkshow is averaging only 200,000 per episode. Earlier this week, “Rachael Ray” vet Shane Farley was hired to replace Page Hurwitz as exec producer.