November 30, 2009 / 5:21 PM / 9 years ago

Disney in no hurry on Oprah decision

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co can wait 12 to 15 months before it decides how to fill the gap left by reigning daytime TV queen Oprah Winfrey, who plans to end her talk show in 2011, said Disney/ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney.

“Oprah has given us two years’ notice, which is not something you generally see in television,” Sweeney said at the Reuters Global Media Summit on Monday. “We are certainly in the process right now of reviewing our options.”

Sweeney, who is also co-chair of Disney Media Networks and oversees the ABC Television Network, described Winfrey as “one of a kind” but nonetheless said she could foresee a “myriad” of ways to replace the TV star.

“No one expected her to come on the scene 25 years ago,” said Sweeney. “So I think it’s really going to be interesting to see who comes forward.”

Winfrey will end her show to focus on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a cable channel to be launched in partnership with Discovery Communications Inc.

Analysts say Disney and its ABC stations, which carry the show, could lose out financially from Oprah’s decision. The show’s large audiences have long boosted ratings and advertising for the stations and their local newscasts that follow it.

Sweeney declined to comment on any specific replacements for Winfrey’s show, which airs weekdays.

“I think it’s going to be really interesting to see who comes forward and who emerges during this time as the next great idea, personality and then the next great piece of programing,” she said.

“It’s a matter of understanding the marketplace and thinking about what it’s going to look like in two years and what is the best thing that you could be programing at that hour for consumers, and I think it’s going to vary station to station,” she said.


Turning to a nearer term issue, Sweeney said that singer Adam Lambert’s sexually charged performance at the American Music Awards has caused Disney to review the steps it takes in preparing for live broadcasts of performers.

Lambert, the runner-up on this year’s “American Idol,” gave a controversial performance during ABC’s broadcast of the American Music Awards on November 22, in which he simulated oral sex on-stage with a backup dancer, kissed a man and gave the middle finger to the audience.

ABC edited Lambert’s performance during the West Coast broadcast of the night-time awards show, and later canceled Lambert’s scheduled November 25 appearance on its “Good Morning America” program.

Sweeney said that in reaction to the Lambert performance, Disney was reviewing the steps it takes to vet live performances by getting assurances from artists that their stage shows will resemble their rehearsals, and using contractual obligations to hold them to that.

“We certainly don’t want to suppress artistry at any level, but we also have to be very cognizant of who our audience is,” Sweeney said.

She added that it was the right decision for ABC to cancel Lambert’s scheduled performance on “Good Morning America,” noting that many children watch the morning news show.

“We really had to take the decision very seriously and found that his performance was very unpredictable at night and (we) didn’t know what to expect in the morning,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis)

Reporting by Sue Zeidler and Paul Thomasch, editing by Tiffany Wu, Derek Caney, Dave Zimmerman

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