In a deal that represents a coming together of two of the most powerful African-Americans in the entertainment industry, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN has signed Tyler Perry to create the network’s first scripted series. In a release that went out Monday, OWN announced its plans to launch two new shows in mid-2013 from the insanely successful and prolific actor-director-writer-producer — he’ll executive produce, write and direct both.
Perry may be most closely associated with the critically maligned but terrifically popular Madea plays and films that have been the basis of his entertainment empire, but he’s also done very well with his TV series “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” “Meet the Browns” and “For Better or Worse,” all of which air on TBS. “House of Payne” premiered in 2007 as cable’s biggest comedy debut ever, and Perry and the network pioneered the giant, syndication-friendly 100-episode deal that FX would later duplicate with Charlie Sheen’s “Anger Management.”
Perry has credited the advice given by a guest on Winfrey’s show nearly 20 years ago with inspiring him to start writing as a way of working through his problems.
“I have been looking forward to the day when we would be in the position to enter the world of scripted television,” said Winfrey. “That day has come. We are all energized by the opportunity to collaborate with Tyler, who has a proven track record for producing highly successful cable series. He has an incredible ability to illuminate life stories and characters in his unique voice and inspires and encourages people all over the world.”
Since its launch in January 2011, OWN’s course as a new network hasn’t always been smooth — there have been financial and ratings struggles. After a big launch, Rosie O’Donnell’s “The Rosie Show” was cancelled in March 2012 after only five months, while the highly touted Documentary Club, a nonfiction film parallel to Winfrey’s hugely successful Book Club, has been quiet since the network brought its doc acquisitions completely in-house in May. The channel’s current slate is a mix of talk and reality shows.
The move into scripted programming has been underway at almost every other network, as everyone is eager to have originals of their own to match the successes at FX (“The Shield,” “Rescue Me”) and AMC (“Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad”). Perry, with his huge following and his down-pat mix of sentiment and broad comedy, seems a smart choice to oversee OWN’s first forays into this arena, even if they’re unlikely to earn critical adoration.