I was on stage with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the producer and director of Miss Representation, on Friday just after the news broke that Christina Norman was out as CEO of Oprah Winfrey's new TV network, OWN.
What an odd coincidence, since Newsom's documentary explores the dearth of women in "clout positions" in the mainstream media. Newsom says that this number is 3%.
Clearly, it is getting worse.
The day before Norman, a former president of MTV, got the boot at OWN, MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath unexpectedly quit Viacom (VIA) -- frustrated by a series of moves by her boss, Viacom CEO Philippe Daumon, to limit her creative license and authority over the company's biggest and most profitable division.
The fall of McGrath and Norman follows the March ouster of Vivian Schiller from the top job at NPR and the April dismissal of Reader's Digest CEO Mary Berner.
Meanwhile, the cast of media queens on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list is shrinking since Cathie Black left Hearst Magazines--only to struggle mightily and get discharged as New York City Schools chancellor. The other most powerful woman in print, Ann Moore, stepped down as chairman and CEO of Time Inc. (TWX), Fortune's parent, late last year.
And if you consider Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo (YHOO) chief Carol Bartz media executives (I do), then women still do swagger in the media universe.
But the unexpected exits of Norman and McGrath constitute a serious bummer. These two women, who spent much of their careers working together at MTV Networks, were role models not only for each other but for a couple of generations of women on the way up.
Given OWN's dire need for a terrific programmer to shape up the network, the rumor mill has McGrath as a potential successor to Norman. That's not impossible (for Oprah, nothing is), but it's very unlikely. Oprah tried to lure McGrath to OWN early on, before she met Norman, but McGrath is a die-hard New Yorker and didn't want to move her family, including a teenage daughter now in high school, to Los Angeles. Now, with Jersey Shore on MTV, you have wonder if Oprah would hire the woman who gave us the gift of Snooki? For what it's worth (a TV ratings bonanza), Oprah remains a McGrath fan, I'm told. But the notion that McGrath would move from a media behemoth -- including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and more -- to troubled OWN is unrealistic. "There's not a remote possibility that Judy will do it," says a friend of McGrath.
For the time being -- up to a year -- OWN's 50-50 owners, Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications (DISCA), have installed Discovery COO Peter Liguori as interim chief. And the search for a new CEO will begin in earnest this fall, after Oprah wraps up her syndicated talk show, moves to California, and drills into OWN's leadership dilemma. People close to OWN tell me that she and Discovery CEO David Zaslav would not rule out candidates she considered before hiring Norman. Besides McGrath, that cast includes Lifetime/History Channel boss Nancy Dubuc; Susan Lyne, who once co-headed ABC Entertainment and now chairs online retailer Gilt Groupe; and former VH1 boss John Sykes.
Nothing against Sykes and Liguori -- they are guys who get it. But Oprah would be wise to choose a woman. Lisa Ling, whose Our America with Lisa Ling is one of OWN's few hit shows, is featured in Miss Representation and says in the film: "No one is going to stand up for the interests of women except other women."
Even more importantly as female clout in media falters, filmmaker Newsom notes, "You can't be what you can't see." All the more reason for Oprah, as the true queen of media told me last fall, to embrace her "next act" as a businesswoman.
by Patricia Sellers
"Oprah's Next Act,"--the new cover of Fortune--hits newsstands nationwide today. A related Postcard, "Oprah confesses and conquers her fear," that I posted last Thursday refers to something she said in the profile—"I don't want to be Michael Jackson"—and wow, has this post drawn a tornado of angry comments.
I'm not sure whether the rancor is directed mainly at me or at the queen of media, but mostly it comes MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 4, 2010 11:58 AM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Does it seem, sometimes, that it's Oprah's World and we're just living in it?
There she is on TV everyday -- not only on The Oprah Winfrey Show but also a virtual presence, at least, on Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and other shows that she and her company, Harpo, have created.
She's on every cover of her magazine, O, telling us what to eat, what to buy, and how to MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 1, 2010 1:53 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
"Oprah's Next Act," is the cover of the new issue of Fortune. Here you'll find the scoop -- the full-blown personal drama and trauma -- around OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the cable TV channel that she's three months away from launching.
Two weeks ago, in her Chicago office, Oprah told me about her deep trepidation in taking on what will be the biggest risk of her professional life. MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 30, 2010 12:58 PM ET
Is Martha Stewart going the way of Oprah?
Seems so, given that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) has sealed a deal to move her syndicated daytime TV show to the Hallmark Channel.
The news comes two months after Oprah Winfrey rocked the broadcast TV world by announcing that she's quitting her syndicated show in September 2011 to focus on her new cable network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Surely, neither Oprah now Martha, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 27, 2010 12:27 PM ET
"If you can see the possibility of change in your life -- see the possibility of what you can become and not just what you are -- you will be a huge success."
-- Oprah Winfrey in her address to Duke University grads on Sunday. After picking up an honorary doctor of human letters, Oprah began by quipping: "I'm gonna have everyone call me 'doctor' now."
How did Duke score the media MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - May 11, 2009 6:56 PM ET
While the global economic crisis consumes our focus, did you realize that Afghanistan is sliding into greater chaos? Yesterday, on the eve of U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke's visit, Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked three government sites in Kabul and killed 19 people.
Personally, the news out of Kabul captivates me because I've been there. It was January 2003, and I was part of the first official delegation of women - MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 12, 2009 3:17 PM ET
"Not that materialism is going to go away, but people are looking to be better global citizens and live their lives in better balance."
-- Former Viacom (VIA.B) CEO Tom Freston, who Pattie profiles in the new issue of Fortune. To Freston's point, he's now helping Oprah Winfrey develop her new cable TV network, OWN, and working with U2 frontman Bono on his global humanitarian efforts. Does Freston still get calls MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Feb 5, 2009 7:17 PM ET
Long live Oprah Winfrey. Her TV syndication contract expires in 2011, but that doesn't mean she'll go off the air then. Oprah is right now busy preparing to launch her own TV network -- one of the more anticipated media projects of the year. (It's supposed to launch in late '09 or early next year.)
It's also one of the more secretive. But watch this space, and you'll learn a bit MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 5, 2009 1:38 PM ET
We've spent the last three months slicing and dicing the accomplishments and career histories of the most powerful women in business -- far too many facts and figures to fit into our Most Powerful Women package in the magazine. Here are 10 intriguing facts that we couldn't find space for in print:
Youngest woman to ever appear on the list: Marissa Mayer, VP of Search and User Experience at Google (GOOG). MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Sep 30, 2008 12:11 PM ET
|NJ agrees to ban Tesla direct sales|
|Inside the underground sex economy|
|Five predictions for the World Wide Web that were way, way, way off|
|West prepares sanctions against Russia over Ukraine|
|The Deep Web you don't know about|