Jim Owens, the visionary producer who revolutionized country music television production, died on Friday (March 4). His wife of nearly 40 years, Lorianne Crook, was by his side.
Owens was born in South Carolina on Aug. 27, 1937. Trained in New York, Owens would become one of the most influential television producers in country music. His first foray into national syndication came in 1977 when he created and produced A Concert Behind Prison Walls with Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, and Roy Clark.
The following year Owens launched country music’s first fan-voted, big budget, live award show: the Music City News Country Awards. Rated No. 1 in national syndication, the program recognized the appetite for country music content. Owens produced and syndicated the awards show via his own company through 1984.
In 1983, Owens paired entertainment news correspondent Lorianne Crook with veteran radio personality and local television host Charlie Chase to create an Entertainment Tonight-esque program for country music. The program became Owens’ landmark show, This Week in Country Music, providing entertainment news, interviews and performances to the country lifestyle viewer. With Owens at the helm, Crook & Chase quickly gained recognition and popularity. The duo was named official TNN ambassadors and took the show on location around the world. Between 1985 and 1999 productions originated from Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Myrtle Beach, and Orlando, as well as Canada, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
In 1985, The Nashville Network entered an agreement to exclusively partner with Jim Owens Entertainment for original content creation. Over the next 15 years, Owens independently created and produced much of the highest rated programming on TNN: the first daily and weekly country music news shows, award shows, variety specials, musical documentaries, lifestyle programming, and more. Owens and Crook also married in 1985.
Owens delivered a massive amount of programming for TNN in the 1980s and 1990s, including the TNN/Music City News Country Awards (1985-1996), Weekday (1988-1990), Weekend (1988-1990), Country Standard Time (1990-1991), TNN/Music City News Songwriters Awards (1991-1995), and Yesteryear (1994-1995).
In 1993, Owens negotiated with TNN to place Crook & Chase in the primetime 90-minute flagship slot held by Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now. With more than 500 episodes in the vaults, Music City Tonight signed off in 1995 at the height of country’s boom to enable the duo to morph Crook & Chase back into national syndication from Universal Studios in Hollywood. At the same time, the duo released their best-selling autobiography Crook & Chase: Our Lives, The Music & The Stars.
During this era, Owens also contributed to Celebrities Offstage with Lorianne Crook (1988-1995), Funny Business with Charlie Chase (1989-1995), Crook & Chase Tonight (1997) and This Year In Country Music (1989-1999).
When TNN closed in 2000, Owens produced, and Crook hosted a series of Celebrities Offstage specials as well as 180 episodes of Celebrity Kitchen for GAC. In 2007, Owens navigated the return of Crook & Chase to television, initially on RFD and later in syndication through 2014. Since 1989, The Crook & Chase Countdown, currently distributed by iHeart Media, is heard on hundreds of radio stations across North America. Owens executive produced the countdown, along with its companion podcast, Crook & Chase Nashville Chats, until his passing.
Since 2011, Jim Owens Entertainment has held the trademarks for TNN: The Nashville Network. With a 45-year library of original productions and raw footage totaling over 10,000 hours, Owens’ legacy of presenting compelling country lifestyle programming is secured.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations in Owens’ name to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s digital preservation efforts. Supporting this initiative will honor Owens’ lifelong mission to forever document country music’s global impact. Arrangements are pending.