HBO Inks Oprah Deal

Oprah Winfrey Tuesday landed her second major cable deal in 2008, signing her Harpo Films production company to a multiyear exclusive relationship with Home Box Office.

HBO and Harpo Films will develop and produce scripted television programming for the network, including potential miniseries, movies, documentaries and scripted series according to Richard Plepler, co-president, HBO, Michael Lombardo, president, Programming Group and West Coast Operations, HBO, and Kate Forte, president, Harpo Films.

The deal comes nearly a year after Winfrey partnered with Discovery Communications to create The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Winfrey will have total control of content for the lifestyles network, which will replace Discovery Health, sometime late next year.

Discovery Communications executive vice president of corporate affairs and global communications David C. Leavy told Multichannel News that the Harpo/HBO deal would not negatively impact the OWN network.

“OWN will be the exclusive home for non-fiction content focused on living your best life, whether its through finance, health, relationships, family or spirituality,” Leavy said. “Having Oprah and her brand on 24/7, 365-day basis as a real stand alone destination will be completely different from a Harpo-produced film from HBO. [OWN] will be the only place [on cable] for people looking for the Oprah-inspired message.”

Winfrey’s Harpo Films has produced such theatrical films as the Denzel Washington-starrer The Great Debaters, and telefilms under the “Oprah Winfrey Presents” banner such as Tuesdays With Morrie as well as Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Forte said that the HBO deal with Harpo Films is for the development of scripted programming, while its OWN content is focused on non-scripted fare. The deal ends Harpo’s 15-year production relationship with ABC.

“ABC wanted to extend our deal but [The HBO deal] felt like a natural progression to move to HBO,” he said on a call announcing the deal. “We have an opportunity to attract A-level talent to create products.”

Noted Lombardo on the call: “The reality of this deal is we weren’t otherwise looking for expanding our deals, but when we sat with Kate and Oprah it was clear that they had vision that was consistent with programming that we were otherwise doing. They were interested in creating programming that’s less concerned with ratings than with quality and programs that had something to say.”

Added Winfrey in a statement: “This is the perfect partnership for Harpo Films …We look forward to working with Richard, Michael and the outstanding creative team at HBO.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.