Jim Owens managed to parlay a childhood love of movies into a career as one of television’s most successful and prolific producers. Owens purchased his first movie camera at the age of 13, and began learning first-hand about the movie making process. Upon graduating from high school, he enrolled in the RCA Television Workshop in New York City. After completing his training there, he returned to his home state of South Carolina where he became a television camera operator for the CBS Affiliate in Charleston. After working his way up to the position of producer, he moved to a new station that was just signing on in Charleston.
It was there that Owens created what was to become the first of many syndication successes. In 1965 he formed a local band, The Villagers, to star in a TV music and dance show for local teenagers. Ratings were good, and soon other stations asked to air the show. Before long, Owens’ show was being seen in 50 markets.
A year at Jefferson Productions in Charlotte, North Carolina led to a move to Atlanta where Owens formed Television Productions International and Mini-Color, Inc., that city’s first independent video production facilities.
In 1975, Owens sold his interest in the Atlanta companies and moved to Nashville. Determined to fill a void in quality country music television, he formed Jim Owens Entertainment, and produced two syndicated specials titled The Jerry Reed Variety Shows.
Shortly thereafter, Owens produced the ambitious A Concert Behind Prison Walls. Starring Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Richard Pryor, and Roy Clark, this special aired in 99% of the U.S., becoming the number one syndicated show for the year. It still ranks as one of the highest rated programs ever in syndication. Other specials followed, including the award-winning Mandrell Sisters and Family and a host of others headlined by such stars as The Statler Brothers, Conway Twitty, and Chet Atkins.
Beginning in 1978, Owens helped transform the Music City News Country Awards from a local gathering of faithful country music fans into an annual live, nationally televised event. It remained in production on TNN until the demise of that network in 1999. A sister show created by Owens, The Music City News Songwriters Awards, aired on TNN from 1991-1995.
In 1983, Owens launched his first weekly series, This Week in Country Music, intuitively pairing local Nashville television competitors Lorianne Crook (host of WKRN’s PM Magazine) and Charlie Chase (host of WSMV’s Channel 4 Magazine). The series, the first of its kind to exclusively feature entertainment news from the world of country music, aired for seven years, initially in syndication and then as a TNN exclusive. The show was awarded a Silver Medal of Excellence at the International Film and Television Festival in New York.
Owens was an early pioneer in the production of music videos. Beginning in 1983 and continuing through the early 90’s he worked with such artists as Tracy Lawrence, Chet Atkins, Ray Stevens, the Statler Brothers, the Gatlin Brothers, Mel Tillis, and Glen Campbell.
In 1984, encouraged by the response to This Week in Country Music, Owens designed and remodeled a studio and office complex at the site of the original RCA Recording Studio where Elvis Presley recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956. It was here that Owens was to launch his most ambitious project yet, the daily 30-minute entertainment news program Crook and Chase. The show eventually expanded to include a live studio audience, on-set guests, and musical performances. In 1988 the series was named “Best Entertainment New Program” by The Cable Guide. By popular demand, the weeknight program expanded to a one-hour live format in March 1992. The popular 30-minute weekly spin-off series Weekend with Crook and Chase was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 1992. The hosts’ namesake series premiered in 1986, and was seen both in national syndication and on TNN until 1989, when it became exclusive to TNN and continued airing in the hour-long format until 1993.
In 1991, Owens brought the variety show concept back to national television with the premier of The Statler Brothers Show on TNN. The skeptics believed the variety format was passé, but the program became the highest rated entertainment series on all of cable television during its first season.
The early 90’s also saw a myriad of other Owens-produced series and specials on TNN including Celebrities Offstage with Lorianne Crook, Funny Business with Charlie Chase, CMA Preview, and This Year in Country Music.
In 1993-1994, Owens and Gaylord Syndicom launched the weekly syndicated country music news program #1 Country, which aired on more than 130 television stations reaching more than 70% of the U.S.
In 1993, with its prime time numbers in a long-term slump, TNN once again called on Jim Owens and Crook & Chase. Between 1993 and 1995 the team produced Music City Tonight, a 90-minute live weeknight music and variety series. With Owens’ guidance and Crook & Chase as hosts, ratings for the time period increased by 40%.
At the same time, the network asked Owens to produce a new, daily entertainment news show. Thus TNN Country News was born, and aired from 1993-1996.
In 1995, Owens once again developed a pioneering concept in the form of a weekly series called Yesteryear, which combined music and historical footage into a nostalgic look back at the era of the 1940’s through the ‘70s.
The success of Yesteryear proved the powerful draw of this kind of programming, and in 1996, Owens produced Salute to the 50’s: Reunion of the Decade, combining elaborate stage performances by popular artists of the decade with the reminiscences of his fellow 1955 graduates of Kingstree High School in his native South Carolina. The special garnered one of the largest Saturday night audiences ever achieved on TNN.
In 1995, Owens made the decision to realize the full potential of Crook & Chase, taking them from cable to nation syndication. He launched Crook & Chase as a daily, one-hour daytime talk and entertainment show in January of 1996. The show, produced at Universal Studios-Hollywood, was seen on more than 100 stations throughout the country. The syndicated show aired until September 1997, at which time TNN negotiated for exclusive rights, and aired the show twice each weekday until 1999 when TNN was sold and reformatted into the Spike network. During their stint in Hollywood, Crook & Chase flew back to Nashville every week to host two editions ofToday’s Country, a live country news program featuring live guests and audience phone calls.
Since the demise of TNN as a country music network in 1999, Mr. Owens has expanded the scope of his company and created new entertainment projects. He wrote and produced an autobiographical musical stage production titled “Summer of ‘66”. Based on his experiences managing the group The Villagers, the stage play became one of the most popular productions on Myrtle Beach’s famous Grand Strand, as did a stage version of The Crook & Chase Show. In 2002, when the stage productions ended their runs, Owens returned to Nashville and launched a home video division utilizing exclusive, historical footage from his extensive vaults. In partnership with Time Life, as well as through direct mail, Owens continues to create unique home video packages.
Since 2003 Owens has been an independent producer for the cable television networks, Great American Country (GAC) and RFD-TV, producing Lorianne Crook’s Celebrity Kitchen, a series of prime time interview specials titled Off Stage with Lorianne Crook and the new weekly primetime series Crook & Chase.
Mr. Owens has also been extremely active in the world of country radio. From 1987-1989, Owens produced the radio version of Crook & Chase on the Star Radio Network. From 1989-1995, Lorianne and Charlie hosted The Nashville Record Review, syndicated nationally by TNN Radio. In 1995, Owens teamed with Jones Satellite Networks to launch the weekly syndicated radio show, the Crook & Chase Country Countdown, and four annual Crook & Chase Center Stage Specials.
In 2001, Owens partnered with United Stations Radio Networks, New York, a company co-owned by legendary broadcaster Dick Clark and veteran radio executive Nick Verbitsky, to launch the current nationally syndicated The Crook & Chase Countdown, the dailyCrook & Chase Updates, as well as several annual specials.
From the beginning, Jim Owens Entertainment has been dedicated to high quality, ground-breaking productions that meet the needs of the customer and the audience. That tradition continues in full force today.