Since Oprah Winfrey is contractually incapable of doing a talk show for OWN while her syndicated one continues to air, her executives came up with a pretty ingenious way of featuring the Queen of Daytime on her new cabler: Oprah: Behind the Scenes. Narrated by Winfrey, the show takes a behind-the-scenes look at the 25th and final season of Oprah before she rides off into the sunset next September. What a marvelous idea: I didn’t catch the premiere episode of Oprah but felt like I got a much better perspective of the adrenaline-fueled hour by watching Behind the Scenes. I doubt we’ll ever witness those truly authentic behind-the-scenes moments, like Winfrey possibly having an epic meltdown or executive producer Sheri Salata blowing up at her staff, but I definitely got the idea that it’s not all fun and games for the 464 employees at Harpo Studios in Chicago.
Anyone who caught the first episode of Oprah already knows that Winfrey treated her audience to a free Australian trip, but it was still a gas to watch her production team whoop it up in the booth as their boss addressed the audience of rabid, mouth-breathing fans. But the real nail-biter — at least for me — was watching how producer Brian Piotrowicz managed to perfectly time the arrival of six fans from the Boston area to Oprah’s stage. It was his crazy thought to have the gals drive right onto a live show – a stunt that even Winfrey doubted could happen. But Piotrowicz executed it magnificently, even though he and his cohorts truly sweated the details, like disguising the outside of Harpo Studios to make it look like a hotel parking garage. He cried when it was all over, and I didn’t blame him.
Moving forward, my hope is that we’ll learn lots more about those employees who bust their asses to make Oprah the No. 1 talk show (and where they’ll go after it all ends). Salata told us tonight that she doesn’t have children, she “lives and breathes Harpo,” and feels “Everest-like pressure to deliver the best 130 shows we’ve ever done.” That woman looks like one helluva ballbuster, so if anyone can do it, she can. But I want to know more. We also met a working mom-cum-senior producer named Jenna Kostelnik, who admits there’s a mighty balancing act between caring for a kid and pleasing Winfrey. “It’s really hard to impress her,” Kostelnik admits. I can only imagine. I’m also thinking that she and Salata probably do a lot of stress eating, so it was rather refreshing to see that they were similar in size to Winfrey. Real-looking women! Clearly, this show is not taped in Hollywood.
Winfrey does let her proverbial hair down in Behind the Scenes, like appearing makeup-free and creating a mess in the office kitchen (“Where’s all my help,” she asks no one in particular). She gets somewhat impatient with a fellow producer who questions whether she knows “Love Train,” the tune selected for her flashy entrance with John Travolta. “You can’t use your Negro license” if you don’t know the song, Winfrey quips. And I especially enjoyed how Winfrey only gave 30 seconds to Travolta so they could rehearse, and how she narrated the entire episode with her racks and racks of shoes serving as a background. Awesome.
This show’s going on my season pass. You?