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Oprah's end marks the beginning of new Harpo, say new presidents

Chicago-based Harpo Studios will continue to create and produce top-notch content long after The Oprah Winfrey Show has shot its last interview, said Harpo Studios’ new presidents, Erik Logan and Sheri Salata, in an interview on Monday evening.

Salata’s and Logan’s promotions were announced earlier Monday, along with the news that longtime Harpo chief Tim Bennett  will retire this May. The pair will lead Harpo’s efforts as it develops new programming beyond Oprah for all platforms, whether it’s for syndication, primetime, cable, radio, digital, mobile or other emerging platforms. The pair also will oversee the company’s original programming slate both on air and in development, while Salata finishes out her role as Oprah executive producer as the show heads towards its 2011 sign-off.

“This announcement demonstrates Oprah’s continuing commitment to having a world-class production studio in Chicago,” said Salata. “Harpo now faces two great creative challenges: sending out the Oprah show the way it should be sent out and taking this team of talented producers we have here and keeping them very busy.”

Logan went on to make clear that the departure of Oprah doesn’t mean the end of Harpo Studios. “There’s no question that these people who have been working Chicago to make the greatest daytime television show will have a future here,” he said.

Still, what Harpo employees spend their time on will be different, said Logan. “The nature of our company will have to change. The Oprah show is huge.”

While Oprah currently represents the lion’s share of Harpo’s work, the studio also has created and developed three other top-rated daytime syndicated programs: Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray and Dr. Oz. It also is working on a show with designer Nate Berkus to be distributed by Sony, although neither Salata nor Logan would elaborate on that project.

“The great thing about Nate is that we know him very well and we’ve had a great, long relationship with him. We’re in a lot of discussions with Nate right now,” said Logan.

Harpo also will create and develop content for OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the joint venture between Winfrey and Discovery, but both Salata and Logan are quick to point out that the two entities are entirely separate. OWN will be a customer of Harpo, much like ABC is today.

“OWN is a key part of our future, that is for sure,” said Salata. “We plan to do a significant amount of production for them and producing for them. They are our professional friends and we have lots of ideas for them. They answer to Oprah and so do we.”

Harpo also has created and produced a few primetime specials (and one primetime reality show, Oprah’s Big Give) in recent years. Expect to see more of that, said Logan.

“When you look at the types of programming that we will continue to do, primetime is a part of it. Without question we are the creators of some of the highest-class content with purpose in the world. We plan to continue to build from that platform on to other platforms that we’ve launched from Chicago. Our programming on XM Satellite Radio is in its fourth season, for example.  The exciting part is that our baseline core business is going to continue and we expect it to grow.”

One answer that neither Salata nor Logan knew is the real date for the Oprah series finale. The published date of Sept. 9, 2011, is the contractual date that Harpo’s distribution deal ends with CBS Television Distribution (formerly King World). However, the show’s real finale could come earlier. The production seasons of most syndicated shows end in May, with repeats airing through the summer until the new season starts up in September.

Salata and Logan also had nothing to say about Oprah’s plans for her own presence on OWN. “That’s for her to answer,” said Salata.

Regardless of Winfrey’s own reinvention plans, Harpo’s new leaders expect it to continue on long after the sun sets on the Oprah show in 2011. “Oprah’s always the wind beneath the wings for anything done at one of her entities,” said Salata. “It really is an exciting thing – if you can think it up, brainstorm it up, you have her support in making it a reality. It’s a creative person’s dream.”