With degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Harvard, Tina Perry is one of those people who was already incredibly accomplished before she ever entered the workforce.
While she always knew she wanted to work in the entertainment industry, Perry took a practical approach to it. “I knew, long-term, the business of entertainment was where my passion was, but the law was a great path for me to learn about the business,” she said. “Before I went to law school, I was torn between going into law and business school. I met some people who worked in the entertainment industry and they gave me some great advice: the truth about the entertainment industry is that it’s one big negotiation.”
Perry took that advice to heart and got her JD from Harvard Law School. From there, she went straight to a law firm, New York-based Cravath, Swaine & Moore. While working there, she represented public companies in connection with public offerings, private placements and general corporate governance matters.
“Choosing to practice corporate law paid off 100%,” Perry said. “I really started to understand big business and how to read balance sheets. The exposure to business helped me. It gave me a great foundation for how the whole ecosystem of how the entertainment industry works.”
It was after Cravath that she made her move into entertainment. She was hired to work in business and legal affairs for Viacom-owned MTV and VH1, and she relocated from New York to Los Angeles.
“It took four or five years for me to find my tribe in L.A.,” Perry said. “In the early years, instead of being lonely, I immersed myself in experiences and hobbies that have really paid off for me. I missed New York, but it has been great for my career to be in Los Angeles.”
In 2009, she joined Oprah Winfrey’s nascent basic cable network, OWN, as VP of business and legal affairs.
“I knew I wanted to be more entrepreneurial in my career, to be an integral part of a business that was growing and evolving,” Perry said. “The chance to work with Oprah and her brand was so enticing. I don’t think I ever thought I would have an opportunity to work with Oprah or her brand, just because it was such a rarified experience. There are not many people who have a brand like hers that’s so clean, so defined and that has touched so many. Working for and with Oprah has been bigger than a dream come true for me.”
Even then, though, Perry knew that she had bigger goals in mind than leading negotiations for OWN. “I knew that I wanted to be the general manager of some sort of entertainment business, to run a P&L and help a larger business generate revenue and be successful,” she recalled.
After about six years at OWN, Perry joined its board of directors, which allowed her to get even closer to the business of running the network. “The scope of my work running business and legal affairs broadened and I started overseeing standards and practices and risk assessment. I also started working with peers and partners on other parts of the business,” she said.
Connecting With the C-Suite
Making those connections and getting that exposure paid off and, in January 2019, Perry was named president of OWN. In the past year, OWN has had five series land in the top 10 among African-American viewers, had the top four original scripted cable series among African-American women aged 18 and over and had five of the top 30 original scripted series on ad-supported cable among women 25-54. Those include such shows as Greenleaf and Queen Sugar and, in the past year, the network has begun airing original holiday movies also targeting its core female African- American audience.
“OWN is core for us at Discovery,” said David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Inc., which co-founded the network with Winfrey. “We’re about quality brands that tell great stories. Most of last year, we were the No. 1 media company in America for women with such networks as HGTV, ID, TLC, Food Network and OWN. A big piece of that was the success Oprah and Tina had at OWN. It’s a huge source of pride for us that we are creating content at OWN that is really having an impact in the African-American community.”
OWN specifically seeks out African-American creators such as Ava DuVernay (Cherish the Day), Tyler Perry (The Haves and the Have Nots) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (David Makes Man). “Working with Tina Perry is like working with a generous and beautiful mind,” McCraney said. “I can’t think of a better person who deserves this recognition.”
McCraney et al. are part of OWN’s overall vision for itself, which has evolved since the network first launched in 2011.
“Oprah absolutely loves working with storytellers who have a strong voice and a specific point of view,” Perry said. “We have had the ability to attract some of today’s best talent, people who are interested in telling stories to our audience in new and engaging manners. The chance to work with Oprah and collaborate with her on creating series that are going to reach large audiences is a huge attractive element of who we are. It’s becoming part of our ethos.
“Our brand promise is ‘see yourself’ and whether she’s watching scripted, unscripted or Super Soul, our viewer comes to watch our programming and to see herself, her life and her history reflected in our storytelling,” Perry said.
Looking ahead, OWN is working toward what’s next in terms of streaming: “We’re part of the Discovery family,” Perry said. “Discovery has really great plans to go over the top, and we’ll be part of those plans. We know from our numbers and our engagement metrics that viewers want to receive our content that way, and we want to reach younger viewers. We are looking forward to a day soon when we will be offered that way.”
Career Highlights: Joining OWN as one of its first employees in 2009 before the network even launched in 2011 and then rising to become president of the network in January 2019.
Quotable: “Working for and with Oprah has been bigger than a dream come true for me.”