Tyler Perry shows on OWN come under scrutiny
Tyler Perry was tweeting up a storm during the May premiere of "The Haves and the Have Nots," his first TV drama for OWN, the network co-owned by his longtime friend Oprah Winfrey.
"Keep watching this show. It is going to BLOW YOUR MIND from week to week," tweeted Perry about his soap opera that revolves around a wealthy white family and the black hired help.
About a month after the launch of Perry's show - and another, the comedy "Love Thy Neighbor" - people are still talking about the new OWN lineup, though not always positively. While both scripted programs set network records for viewership in their premieres, the shows' ratings have dipped significantly since then and reignited an ongoing debate within the African-American community about negative stereotypes.
Some African Americans have found Perry's comedy particularly offensive. "Love Thy Neighbor" is set in a family-run diner and stars Patrice Lovely as Mama Hattie, a character who dishes out insults in a shrill, exaggerated voice.
Heightening the debate is the linking of two immensely popular brands that some critics view as being at cross-purposes in their mission. Winfrey built a business empire promoting personal improvement and self-empowerment. Perry's success in films and TV stems from broad, low-brow humor and preachiness.
Ratings for Perry's two series have dropped as much as 30 percent, according to Nielsen research data - a decline that insiders say may be cause for concern. But at least publicly, OWN executives say they are pleased with the results so far and point out that both programs are a hit with the network's target demographic - females ages 25 to 54.
What remains unclear, however, is whether the Perry projects will pay off for OWN; its 2011 launch was followed by consistently low ratings and a series of executive departures.
Perry and Winfrey declined to be interviewed for this story. In an interview with Winfrey on "Oprah's Next Chapter," Perry sidestepped his critics, pointing out that his popularity with millions of fans demonstrates that he is doing something right. Perry added that it would be "ridiculous and suicidal" to try to please critics by changing his artistry.
His fans have praised the two shows as the latest example of his golden formula - the mixing of ribald humor and outrageous characters with a dose of faith and messages about family togetherness.
But the criticism of those who didn't like the Perry OWN shows went beyond the usual complaints about buffoonish images. Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor of women's studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University, called Perry a hater of black women, as well as artistically stunted.
"The irony of what's happening is that he has made a fortune vilifying women like Oprah - independent smart women who are not in a traditional marriage, who needs to be punished for her independence," said Cooper, who criticized the shows online for Crunk Feminist Collective, a group that describes itself as "hip-hop generation" feminists.
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