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The revolving executive door at OWN is spinning again.
Peter Liguori is stepping in as interim CEO of the Oprah Winfrey-Discovery Communications joint venture, taking over for Christina Norman, who has been dismissed after a slow ratings start and budget overruns. The news was announced Friday by Oprah Winfrey, chairman of OWN, and David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications.
Liguori also remains COO of Discovery Communications. But his main focus will be on getting OWN on track. The network had a strong opening weekend in January as curious viewers tuned in. But since then, OWN’s ratings are tracking only slightly higher than the network it replaced, Discovery Health. And the programming costs at OWN are much higher.
Discovery Communications CFO Brad Singer earlier this year said the company expects to spend an incremental $50 million on added funding beyond its previous $189 million commitment to OWN, with programming investments being the focus.
The network features projects helmed by A-list starts including Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn, and Rosie O’Donnell will launch a talk show on OWN this fall. With her syndicated talk show wrapping at the end of the month, Winfrey’s primetime show, Oprah’s Next Chapter — which will have Winfrey globetrotting with famous friends — is set to launch in January.
In making the announcement, Winfrey thanked Norman for her “important accomplishments, incredible passion and many sacrifices.”
“With the final taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show only a few weeks away, I will soon be able to devote my full energies to OWN,” said Winfrey in a statement. “This is a natural point of transition, and I am confident that Peter, as an integral part of the launch of OWN, will be a terrific partner for me going forward.”
OWN’s January launch was twice delayed as executives were hired and fired before Winfrey settled on Norman and the initial $100 million launch budget was upped to $189 million.
Even now, many in the creative community describe OWN as disorganized. During an appearance at the Television Critics Association press tour last January, Winfrey admitted that running an entire network was much harder than she had initially anticipated.
“I think we’re going to have some perhaps rocky times with the channel, keeping people there and keeping people motivated to keep watching, keeping them engaged,” she said at the time.
There has been widespread industry speculation that Norman’s days at OWN were numbered as executives had in recent months quietly begun casting for a new leader. Among the names thrown into the mix: Judy McGrath, who yesterday stepped down as head of Viacom’s MTV Networks; and Terry Wood, who resigned as head of CBS Television Distribution last November.
But no executive announcement is imminent. Winfrey said in her statement that she and Liguori will work to “recruit a permanent CEO” for the network “over the remainder of the year.”
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