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Exclusive: Oprah’s OWN Reshapes Programming Team

Head of programming Jamila Hunter changing roles. Three MTV veterans coming on board as channel races toward 2011 debut


Oprah Winfrey’s OWN is reshaping and expanding its executive ranks, recruiting three unscripted veterans — Rod Aissa, Michele Dix and Drew Tappon — to oversee programming.

At the same time, Jamila Hunter — who was named head of programming for the network last June — will be transitioning to a different role at the channel that will allow her to focus on specific projects rather than overseeing all content. Her title will change, but she will be staying at OWN.

As for the three new executives, all have roots at MTV Networks, the former home of OWN chief Christina Norman. Deals are still being finalized for the trio, and OWN — a collaboration between Winfrey and Discovery Networks — declined comment.

But according to people familiar with the plan, the three new executives will report directly to Lisa Erspamer, the newly named chief creative officer for OWN. Erspamer was hand-picked by Winfrey to help make it easier for OWN execs to synch with Winfrey’s vision for the network that’s named after her.

Aissa and Dix are expected to head up primetime programming and development for OWN. Tappon, meanwhile, will focus on building original content for daytime.

The three will be the primary points of contact for the creative community looking to pitch or set up projects at OWN.

The new hires came in the wake of Hunter’s desire to change her role at the channel. According to a person familiar with the matter, Hunter went to Norman late last year and said she wasn’t happy with the broad gig she had taken on. The scope of her role meant she spent less time focusing on developing specific shows.

Norman and Hunter agreed to work out a scenario where Hunter stayed with the network in a key role, but focused on just a handful of big projects. Erspamer and Norman then went about finding new executives to fill the gap left by Hunter’s move from head of programming.

Hunter’s role-change will no doubt spark renewed talk of turmoil inside OWN, which has seen its launch delayed and undergone a number of management changes in the past year. The network is now on track to debut early next year.

People close to the situation, however, believe that the situation has actually settled down in recent months since Erspamer’s arrival. Because of her familiarity with Winfrey’s tastes and management style, the development process has become streamlined and sped up.

Norman is expected to unveil a broad slate of programming next month during OWN’s portion of the Discovery Networks’ upfront. Three or four projects– most, if not all, with significant Winfrey ties — will be spotlighted during her formal presentation; other projects will likely be announced via press release.

Aissa most recently was an exec at Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst Films. During his long run at MTV, he helped put in motion the signature series "The Osbournes" and "Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica," among others. As an exec on "MTV Cribs," Aissa is often cited as having identified the fact that a guest on that show — the Osbourne family — might make good candidates for their own shows.

Dix, meanwhile, has been a consultant at OWN for the past seven months. She had previously been senior VP of music and talent development for MTV/VH1, working on specials such as "MTV Icon" and the Video Music Awards, as well as the beloved MTV2 series "Wondershowzen," during her 14 years with the networks.

Tappon is headed to OWN from Warner Horizon Television where he has been a senior creative executive, working on shows such as "America’s Best Dance Crew," "The Bachelor" and "True Beauty." During his decade-plus tenure at MTV Networks, her served in numerous roles, including senior VP of original programming and series. He was key in overseeing staples such as "Real World" and "Road Rules."