High-placed media-industry sources tell me that Susan Lyne has been in touch with Oprah and her folks about running OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Lyne, who quit the CEO post at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia last week, won’t comment. Nor will Oprah. But the cable startup—a joint venture of Oprah’s Harpo Inc. and Discovery Communications that’s due to launch in September 2009— would be a natural fit for Lyne, 58, since she once co-headed ABC Entertainment.
Disney CEO Bob Iger, who was Lyne’s boss at the Disney-owned network, booted her from the job in the spring of 2004, just months before the show she developed, Desperate Housewives, helped revive ABC—and Iger later regretted (so he told me) that she left Disney.
Lyne knows all about conquering adversity—which is Oprah’s credo. When Lyne stepped into the top job at MSLO in November 2004, Martha was serving her five-month prison term in West Virginia. So Lyne faced CEO trail by fire—balancing power with Martha while vying to turn around the damaged company. MSLO’s stock fell 55% during Lyne’s four-year tenure, but she returned the business to profitability and earned a reputation as a strong manager.
Now the buzz is that a non-compete agreement in Lyne’s employment contract limits her options post-Martha. Not true. An amendment in her separation agreement eliminates the non-compete clause that was in her contract. So Lyne is, in fact, free to work with Oprah. If she steps up to run OWN, competition between Martha and Oprah, those amazing brand icons, takes on a whole new dimension.
P.S. The press has repeatedly reported that Susan Lyne and Ann Moore, the CEO of Time Inc. (FORTUNE’S parent), have a lunch date this week. Not true. Moore, in fact, e-mailed Lyne the very day she quit Martha—and yes, asked her to lunch. But their lunch has yet to be scheduled. Moore’s CEO contract at Time Inc. runs until the second quarter of 2010. Rumors that Lyne is in the running to take Moore’s job are unfounded.