HBO Strikes Deal With Oprah's Harpo

Oprah Winfrey has added to her vast multimedia empire, signing her Harpo Films production company to an exclusive three-year relationship with Home Box Office.

HBO and Harpo Films will develop and produce scripted television programming for thepremium network, including potential miniseries, movies, documentaries and scripted series, HBO and Harpo Films executives said last week.

“The reality of this deal is we weren't otherwise looking for expanding our deals. But when we sat with [Harpo Films president Kate Forte] and Oprah it was clear that they had vision that was consistent with programming that we were otherwise doing,” Michael Lombardo, HBO programming group president, said.

In February, Winfrey partnered with Discovery Communications to create The Oprah Winfrey Network. She'll have total control of content for the lifestyles network, which will replace Discovery Health when it launches sometime late next year.

Discovery Communications executive vice president of corporate affairs and global communications David Leavy told Multichannel News the Harpo/HBO deal would not have a negative impact on the OWN network, which last week hired former Nike executive Liz Dolan as chief marketing officer.

“Having Oprah and her brand on a 24/7, 365-day basis as a real standalone destination will be completely different from a Harpo-produced film from HBO,” he said. “[OWN] will be the only place [on cable] for people looking for the Oprah-inspired message.”

Forte said that the HBO deal with the company is for the development of scripted programming, while its OWN content is focused on non-scripted fare.

The HBO arrangement ends Harpo's 15-year production relationship with ABC.

Harpo Films titles include the Denzel Washington-starrer The Great Debaters and telefilms under the “Oprah Winfrey Presents” banner, such as Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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.