Oprah’s new programming chief has her work cut out for her

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We don’t envy Jamila Hunter. Although she’s landed the plum position of programming chief for OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, she’ll have to hit the ground running if the cable channel is serious about launching early next year.

The network, which has already delayed its launch from later this year to early next year, has had fits-and-starts in terms of assembling an executive team. Robin Schwartz, who had been tapped to be president of OWN, left after less than a year in the job and only three months after Winfrey tapped former MTV executive Christina Norman to be CEO of the network.

Hunter, who joins OWN from NBC Entertainment, where she was a senior vice president of alternative and digital programming, is basically starting from scratch. OWN has ordered just six series so far which means they have a lot of holes to fill on their schedule. And there’s no guarantee that once Hunter starts she will want to put her own imprint on development and rethink what is already in the works. That’s what usually happens when a new entertainment chief comes aboard.

It may seem like OWN has plenty of time to get its programming in gear, but it really doesn’t. The process of developing and ordering and then producing series can take as long as a year -- even for a network that will pretty much be talk and reality. Discovery Communications Inc., which partnered with Winfrey to create OWN, has been getting very vague about when the channel will premiere. It initially said the first quarter of next year and now it is saying early next year. Does June count as early?


Even though Hunter has spent several years at NBC and Bravo, she is not the high-profile hire many were expecting from Norman. Brian Graden, the entertainment czar at MTV, was apparently on the wish list but a real long shot. Others may have been scared off at the prospect of working for such a high-profile project that will be heavily scrutinized from Day One. Indeed, Hunter’s title -- head of programming -- seems awfully informal especially since the two people who report to her both have traditional senior vice president titles. Maybe she needs a better lawyer.

-- Joe Flint