Oprah Winfrey will do prime-time series for Oxygen

Tuesday, June 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Oprah Winfrey will star in a prime-time coda to her talk show on the Oxygen cable channel as part of a deal that also strengthens her control over her legacy.

The program, ``Oprah After the Show,'' will air weeknights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and be rerun at 10 p.m., 11:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. the next day. It will debut Sept. 16.

``Oprah After the Show'' will be taped each day when she finishes her syndicated talk show.

``We're going to kick off our shoes, take questions from the audience and see where the conversation takes us,'' Winfrey said.

``There are a tremendous number of working women who never really have a chance to watch Oprah during the day,'' said Geraldine Laybourne, Oxygen's CEO, on Tuesday. ``We're going to give people a chance to see Oprah.''

Winfrey's arrangement with Oxygen has the potential of being very lucrative for the woman whose media empire, Harpo Inc., was valued at nearly $1 billion by Fortune magazine this spring.

Winfrey _ an original investor in Oxygen Media, founded in 1998 _ owns 25 percent of the company. As part of her investment, she agreed to give Oxygen exclusive rights to show reruns of her talk show, which were to begin this fall.

In an interview with Fortune, she expressed regret at giving away these rerun rights.

She came up with ``Oprah After the Show'' as a replacement. Oxygen now gives up any rights to show reruns of her talk show, Laybourne said.

``It's very hard not to say yes to anything Oprah pitches,'' Laybourne said. ``I'm not going to be in that category. It's the perfect idea. It couldn't be better for us.''

Indeed, a fresh Winfrey show is infinitely more valuable to Oxygen than reruns. Oxygen has struggled in contrast to the much more popular Lifetime network for women. Oxygen is now available in about 41 million of the nation's 105 million television homes.

Winfrey fans eager to see ``Oprah After the Show'' may pressure cable operators who don't offer Oxygen to add the channel to its systems, said Bill Carroll, an analyst for Katz Television, a media buying firm.

That would make Oxygen more valuable to its investors _ Winfrey included.

``It's a win-win situation,'' Laybourne said.

The Oxygen show can serve as a prime-time promotional vehicle for her talk show, which has dominated the daytime ratings for several years. A spokeswoman for Harpo would not comment on the deal, first reported in The Washington Post.

The arrangement also gives Winfrey control over how her library of old shows will be used in the future. Those tapes will only increase in value when her talk show goes off the air, Carroll said. Winfrey has said she will quit producing new talk shows in 2006.

Winfrey's syndicator, King World, has told television stations that Winfrey plans to cut back on the number of fresh episodes and show more reruns in the final two years of her contract, he said.

``I think it's a very savvy move for several reasons on her part,'' he said. ``She's a very savvy business person.''