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A Heart for the Arts

Monday, December 9, 2019

USC Gould alumna Karen Grant-Selma's road to entertainment law leads to executive role at The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

By Carren Jao

Karen Grant-Selma says the network of support she found at USC Gould helped fuel her success in law school.

Every morning, Karen Grant-Selma (JD 1994) gets to walk into Oprah Winfrey’s living room, or something very close to it. Grant-Selma is the newly-minted Senior Vice President, Head of Business & Legal Affairs at The Oprah Winfrey Network. It is the latest role in her unwavering path upward in the world of entertainment law.

The daughter of entertainment-minded Jamaican immigrants, the Miami native knew what she wanted from a young age. “I was always interested in the arts,” says Grant-Selma, “I was a dancer. My sister was into theater. My mom used to sing in a band in her 20s.” Rather than step directly into the limelight, the Miami native figured out by high school that she wanted to be close to the arts, while being realistic about a future in the entertainment business. A teen magazine provided a life-changing moment of clarity. “I came across a Seventeen magazine article about this music lawyer for CBS records — before it became Sony — and I thought, ‘Wow! I could be connected to music and be a lawyer at the same time? That sounds cool.’”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Miami School of Business, becoming the first in her family to graduate from university, she immediately entered USC Gould. “The planets aligned and I got accepted to the University of Southern California,” says Grant-Selma, who was also offered admission into the University of California, Los Angeles, right after committing to USC Gould. It was fortunate, she says, since USC Gould’s emphasis on small class sizes (fewer than 200 people) matched her learning style.

Years later, she cherishes her USC Gould cohort.  Rather than cutthroat competition, Grant-Selma found solidarity and solace that got her through the tumultuous early ‘90s in Los Angeles, as well as the rigors of law school. “I feel that the network of support and camaraderie was really instrumental in helping me get through the stress of that first year of law school being away from home for the first time, being in a city I never visited, in a school I never saw in person,” says Grant-Selma.  

At USC Gould, she focused on entertainment law rather than the more popular litigation track. She was so certain of her goals that during the on-campus interview program, she dressed with flair, in an emerald green suit with a cream colored blouse and green suede pumps. “I was totally rebelling against the litigation vibe,” she says.

She landed a job at Stein & Kahan, a boutique entertainment litigation firm helmed mostly by Trojans. From there, she worked in a series of heavyweight entertainment companies: NBCUniversal, AMC Networks, Live Nation Entertainment and DreamWorks Entertainment. She was the woman behind carefully crafted deals, signed contracts and licensing agreements that make popular shows and films possible.

At OWN, she relishes her larger role as head of a department, focusing on her team’s needs and development while minding the department budget and learning in depth about ratings, scheduling and other business elements of cable television. Her USC Gould education has been an asset. “It’s been a whirlwind since I started, absorbing so much information and figuring it all out,” she says. “Gould showed me that I could set my mind to something and accomplish it. Even if there were bumps in the road, I could just get back up again and plow ahead.”

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