The TV Column: Oprah’s interview of Whitney Houston’s daughter scores network’s biggest rating

March 12, 2012

The Oprah Winfrey Network copped 3.5 million viewers Sunday night when Oprah interviewed Bobbi Kristina Brown, 19-year-old daughter of the late Whitney Houston. That’s the largest audience in the network’s 14-month history.

The interview, which OWN was scheduled to rerun Monday night at 8, aired as part of its “Oprah’s Next Chapter” franchise, in which the former syndicated daytime star travels here and there to meet and interview celebrities. OWN is a venture of Winfrey’s Harpo company and Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications.

In Sunday’s interview, Oprah stroked Bobbi Kristina’s hair and gave her a hug as the teenager said she planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a singer and actress. She also told Oprah, “I slept in her arms all day, all night long,” the day before the entertainer was found dead in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Houston was found dead in a bathtub in her Beverly Hilton hotel room Feb. 11, as she was getting ready to attend Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy party downstairs in the hotel.

The 90-minute OWN broadcast also featured Oprah interviewing Houston’s brother, Gary, as well as with the singer’s sister-in-law and manager, Pat Houston.

Pat Houston told Oprah that although Whitney appeared to have her drug addictions under control, she became concerned again two days before Whitney’s death, when the singer appeared disheveled at another Grammy walk-up party and got into a confrontation with “X Factor” contestant/former professional backup singer Stacy Francis. The press reported that Pat Houston ushered Whitney out of that party. An autopsy on Whitney Houston has been concluded, with results pending on the toxicology examination.

Sunday’s number is a big breakthrough for OWN, which has struggled in the ratings since its launch. The 3.5 million is more than twice the network’s previous record, scored Jan. 8 when Oprah interviewed pastor Joel Osteen.

Sunday’s audience is also 417 percent better than the “Oprah’s Next Chapter” average to date. And, it’s 1,070 percent better than what the network was doing in the time period last March.

‘Desperate’ measures

Even killing off one of its most beloved regular characters — as well as a sensational real-life trial — can’t bring viewers back to “Desperate Housewives.”

On Sunday, the killing off of James Denton’s character, Mike Delfino, only enabled the show to remain flat, week to week, among the 18- to 49-year-old viewers who are ABC’s lifeblood. Among viewers of all ages, the episode logged 8.3 million viewers — a tick above the previous week’s 8.2 million and a far cry from the 15 million people who tuned in to see trampy neighbor Edie Britt, played by Nicollette Sheridan, get bumped off in 2009.

Sunday also marked the nation’s shift to daylight saving time, which always plays havoc on networks’ prime-time ratings what with the masses saying out late that day to frisk and frolic in the extended hour of sunlight. It’s a well-documented TV phenomenon, which leaves you wondering about the timing of Delfino’s demise just two months before the series’ May 13 finale.

Still, there once was a time when knocking off of a beloved “Desperate” regular would have attracted far more viewers.

But “Desperate Housewives” is, sadly, one of the many, many television series that has stayed at the party too long. In this its eighth season, the show is averaging just 8.5 million viewers — a big drop from the day when it was a ratings magnet to 20 million to 30 million people. Just last season, it was logging more than 11 million viewers.

Also harming Sunday’s ratings: The gunning down of Delfino had been “spoiled” during testimony in the wrongful termination suit filed by Sheridan, regarding Edie’s ’09 offing.

Sheridan claims that show creator Marc Cherry killed off Edie after Sheridan officially complained that he’d “walloped” her on set. Cherry has denied the “walloping,” saying it was just a tap to the head by way of demonstrating a bit of business he wanted her to do in a scene.

Last Thursday, Denton told those jurors he was not surprised by Edie’s death because the mortality rate of characters on the show was so very high. Since the show debuted in 2004, nearly 50 people have met their maker.

Denton further said that he was constantly worried about his character being killed off. A short while later, on the stand, “Desperate” line producer George Perkins — asked by Sheridan’s attorney whether his client’s character was the most high-profile one to be snuffed — responded, “You mean, until today?” And then he spoiled that Denton’s character would head to that Wisteria Lane in the sky on Sunday.

It went over big, according to press coverage of that day’s trial events.

To read Lisa de Moraes’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/tvblog.

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