More Turmoil at Oprah Winfrey Network

CMO Liz Dolan and Others Out in Latest Executive Turnover

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LOS ANGELES ( -- A few days ago, Advertising Age named Oprah Winfrey Network CMO Liz Dolan one of its annual Women to Watch. On Friday, Ms. Dolan will punch out at OWN after just over a year at the Discovery Communications-Harpo joint venture, only six months shy of its Jan. 1, 2011, launch. What happened?

Liz Dolan
Liz Dolan
In a sense, the network's latest executive turnover shouldn't be a surprise. The rocky road to OWN's launch continues to parallel the tumultuous launch of O Magazine in 2000. The publication, a joint venture between Hearst Magazines and Harpo Productions, saw the departure of editor in chief Ellen Kunes and publisher Alyce C. Alston within weeks of the magazine's launch. An executive familiar with the O debut said Ms. Winfrey hired high-profile, seasoned executives for their expertise, listened to their ideas, then fired or replaced them when it became clear she disagreed with them.

Ms. Dolan is one of a handful of top execs who are leaving the OWN network this week, according to a Hollywood Reporter story on the network's new development deals with Carson Kressley and Cat Cora that mentioned the departures and promotions.

Also leaving are former programming chief Jamila Hunter and marketing executive Greg Neal. Ms. Dolan and Mr. Neal's departures were resignations so that they could return to their previous businesses. Ms. Dolan will return to her talk radio show, "Satellite Sisters," created and hosted with her four sisters and distributed by Public Radio International and ABC Radio Networks.

An OWN spokesperson said an executive search is currently under way to find a replacement for Ms. Dolan. OWN CEO Christina Norman and Discovery Communications Chief Operating Officer Peter Liguori are expected to assume some of Ms. Dolan's duties in the interim.

Earlier turnover
And this is only the latest round of hires and fires for the network, following the April 2009 departure of President Robin Schwartz and the January 2010 appointment of Chief Creative Officer Lisa Erspamer, who has effectively served as the network's head of programming since assuming the post. In May, OWN also announced that digital chief Robert Tercek would leave the company. John MacDonald, an MTV Networks veteran, joined this week as chief operating officer-exec VP digital, a new position that assumes some of Mr. Tercek's recent responsibilities.

Despite all the executive suite turmoil, OWN has been making significant strides in the ad marketplace under sales chief Kathy Kayse. In April, the network brokered a multi-year deal with Procter & Gamble estimated to be worth $100 million, while Kohl's recently signed on to become the premier retail sponsor of "Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search For the Next TV Star." The New York Post also reported earlier this week that OWN is close to signing a major ad pact with General Motors.

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