Oprah's shipping Lisa Erspamer, one of her most trusted producers, to L.A. to be chief creative officer of OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network, and already some are speculating she's laying the groundwork to move her TV show to OWN, too.
But would she dare leave the world of touchy-feely daytime syndication that made her?
Oprah's contract with CBS expires in 2010, the same year OWN is scheduled to launch, and she's certainly taking her sweet time deciding whether or not to renew it. Lady O has repeatedly given up supporting roles in major media outlets in favor of lead roles in the outlets she singly controls—like her magazine, which features the only cover shoots she's appeared in since its launch in 2000. (Then again, once you've got Vogue out of your system and Anna Wintour's begrudging respect, do you really need magazine covers anymore?) Her partnership with the Oxygen network scaled back considerably when she discovered she couldn't exert enough control to make it "reflect her voice." The lady likes to be in charge.
Since CBS owns rerun rights on Oprah's syndicated show until 2011, if she wants her familiar, couch-sitting, tear-jerking format to be on OWN, she'll be forced either to contrive a way to divide her schtick into two shows—thereby competing with herself, risking becoming redundant, and probably irritating the hell out of the powers that be at CBS—or ditch CBS entirely to start broadcasting her show by herself.
One question is whether OWN can succeed without The Oprah Winfrey show, which has always anchored the disparate branches of her high-consumption universe. She already has plans to outsource some of the personality-driven portions of OWN's programming to her proteges (god knows the Oprah-lite army is big—and greedy—enough) and relegate herself to a man-behind-the-curtain role. Erspamer's presence at OWN could help orchestrate that (the press release calls it an "injection of Oprah's DNA into OWN"), or it could be a signal that Oprah wants OWN to bear the mark of Harpo, which could just as easily mean melding the two. The others question is whether the Oprah Winfrey brand exists without Oprah's physical presence—and whether she would want it to.