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Harpo Says 'Oprah' Leaving Syndication In 2011 Not Final

Related: 'Oprah Winfrey Show' Has Season-High Rating

While Discovery Chief David Zaslav said Friday morning that CBS Television Distribution’s The Oprah Winfrey Show will depart broadcast syndication in fall 2011, Harpo isn’t so sure.

On Discovery’s first-ever earnings call, Zaslav told analysts: “The current expectation is that after fall 2011 her show will go off of …  syndication, and she will come to OWN,” the cable network that Winfrey’s production company, Harpo, is creating in conjunction with Discovery.

“We are talking right now about what that presence would be and what programming she would be involved in directly, but this is her chapter two, and building the OWN brand online and on-air is something and she and I are working on together. It is a core mission for her,” Zaslav said.

Winfrey’s distribution deal, which she re-signed with King World (now part of CBS Television Distribution) in August 2004, expires in fall 2011. That marks the end of Oprah’s 25th season.

In a statement issued this afternoon, however, Harpo responded: "While David Zaslav's comments are true that Oprah's current contract to produce The Oprah Winfrey Show will expire in 2011, she has not made a final decision as to whether she will continue her show in syndication beyond that," says Lisa Halliday, chief spokesperson for Harpo Productions, Inc.

In fact, a clause existed in her current contract that would have let the talk-show queen end the show in 2010, but she recently chose to extend the show’s run through the contract’s full term.

Winfrey is well known for waffling over the show’s fate.

In 1997, she said she was planning to retire, but then renewed her contract through 2002. In 2002, she said she would depart in 2006 – the show’s 20th anniversary year – but in 2004 she ended up re-upping through 2011, after riding a wave of high ratings and a revamped program in 2003.

If Winfrey does end up shutting down Oprah, it could be painful for TV stations – particularly ABC’s owned stations, which make up the show’s core station group – that use the show to lead in to local news programs. On the other hand, Oprah’s ratings have been declining – this year they are down 14% -- while the show’s license fees remain high, an expensive combination for stations.

CTD, of course, wants the show to continue: “We are thrilled that The Oprah Winfrey Show will continue production through the 2010 – 2011 season, its 25th year on the air. We are grateful to Ms. Winfrey, her producers and all of our affiliates who remain committed to bringing viewers this exceptional series. We would certainly welcome and hope that The Oprah Winfrey Show would continue in syndication beyond that, but that is a decision only Ms. Winfrey will be making,” said a CTD spokesperson in a statement. 

Viewers, on the other hand, might not notice Winfrey’s departure. Last January, Harpo and Discovery announced that OWN will take the place of Discovery Health on cable. That immediately wins it carriage on 70 million-plus homes. Exactly what Winfrey’s on-air presence will be on the network has not been clarified, but the talk-show queen and her strong eponymous brand are sure to be ever present.

“In addition to providing her talent, and personal commitment, Winfrey will have full editorial control over the joint venture and will be responsible for OWN's programming, branding and creative vision,” Harpo and Discovery said in a press release at the time of OWN’s announcement. OWN launches next year. Former Regency Television Chief Robin Schwartz was named president of the network last June.

Winfrey also hosts a program on XM Satellite Radio called Oprah & Friends, and appears monthly on the cover of her popular magazine, O.