“What you do today, creates every tomorrow.”
So says my mug from the Oprah store. Yes, my souvenir from my once-in-a-lifetime visit to The Oprah Winfrey Show is a bit of self-help wisdom, but what better way to help remember my chance to be seen by 40 million people on TV?
Last week, I traveled to Chicago, America’s Windy City, for a business trip. I was scouting hotels for an upcoming conference with my co-worker, Karen. We looked at three different properties, and had a great time. I was able to see one of my oldest and dearest friends, Eddy, for dinner during the trip (he’s so terrific!) and also tried deep dish Chicago pizza pie (though, after doing so, I must admit that I am a thin crust kind of girl).
Other high points of the trip were two amazing lunches we had at the prospective hotels (what can I say? I’m pregnant!). The first was at the Marriott and included 7 courses! This is worth mentioning because (a) I ate everything, (b) it was delicious, and (c) it was held in the executive chef’s office and we were attended to by the executive chef, two sous chefs, and the executive pastry chef (who once worked for Tom Colicchio, the head judge of “Top Chef,” my favorite TV show). I felt as if I was on “Top Chef!” But the real reason I am mentioning the lunch is that one of the courses was filet mignon……And, I ate it. Until that moment, last Wednesday, I had been a pseudo-vegetarian, not having eaten red meat in 19 years (except for pepperoni and occasionally sausage). When the plate was put in front of me, with the perfectly cooked filet, I, at first, was not sure what to do. Then, however, pregnancy cravings took over, and I ate part of the filet (primarily the well-cooked outer edges). It was delicious. What can I say? Baby wanted beef. The next day, we had a wonderful, no beef 4 course lunch at the Sheraton (we also looked at the Hyatt…but just had breakfast there). This was also the hotel where we stayed, and it’s a beautiful property. I highly recommend it if you are traveling to Chicago.
Enough about hotels and food; you want Oprah details…….This is how it all came about: When, at work, we discussed doing a “site visit” (i.e., a trip to check out possible locations for an event) to Chicago, I immediately volunteered. Never having been there, I had four must dos: (1) eat deep dish pizza pie; (2) take the boat architecture tour (pending a return visit in warmer weather); (3) visit with dear Eddy (see the picture of us at the left); and (4) go to Oprah. This is all, of course, in addition to my work-related obligations. Turns out the #4 was pretty tough to do. To get them, I went to Oprah’s website, read some blogs, as well as some insider guides to visiting Chicago. The best advice it seemed, other than waiting on hold forever to get through to Harpo Productions which runs the Oprah show, was to ask for help from your hotel concierge. So, we did the next best thing: we asked our hotel sales contacts for help. The first hotel (which shall remain nameless) said no right off the bat, the second tried but to no success, but the third came through with sailing colors, as they say (turns out someone on staff has a brother who works there).
We arrived at Harpo Studios on Thursday a little after 7 AM, and joined a line of excited, well-lipsticked (the women that is) Oprah fans, thrilled to get their 15 seconds (not minutes, this is TV, after all) of fame. After we handed in our coats and checked-in (no tickets, just everyone’s name on a list), we went through security and had our purses searched. Security removed cameras, cell phones, paper (so you couldn’t hold up “Hi Mom” signs during filming), and anything else they determined to be inappropriate. I got to keep my banana, but my co-worker’s entire bag was held until after the show. At one point, I heard a guard apologize to an audience member for the intrusion, explaining “Oprah just wants you all to be safe.” I have to give credit to the team at the show. They managed the crowd efficiently and were extremely well-organized.
After security, we proceeded to the waiting room, decorated with pictures of Oprah and some of her famous interviewees, including Nelson Mandela and the cast of “Sex and the City.” After about 30 minutes or so (and after we completed a release saying Harpo could use our likeness “worldwide” and “forever”), people began to be called to go into the studio. We were called during this time and escorted to reserved seats in “stadium 2” (diagonally to the right of Oprah, across the studio, and in the first row). We overheard that this was part of the “executive seating”–must have been something to do with the hotel getting us tickets. Karen and I then watched as the rest of the studio fill up. About 320 people were in the audience that day, though the studio can expand to include about 20-30 additional audience members when the stage is configured differently. I was amazed how some people jockeyed for different seats than the ones they were given, and how others complained when they did not get the seats they liked. I was just happy to be there!
Once the studio was full, the audience team welcomed us, told some jokes, and went over grown rules (no gum chewing was their big one). Then, one of the producers came on stage to introduce the show and the guests. Now, I didn’t care what the show was about, but just hoped it wasn’t going to be depressing. In the end, we didn’t win any cars, have our mortgages paid off, or get to go lunch with Gayle, but we did enjoy the show. The theme was reality TV stars with big hearts and included Ruby from the Style Network‘s show, “Ruby;” the newlyweds of “Little People: Just Married,” a brand-new show on TLC; and, my mom’s personal favorite, the family featured on “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” also on TLC (though they were via satellite).
The audience team and producers kept our spirits up while we waited for the show to begin. Since there were TLC producers in the studio, they asked about audience members to share their ideas for reality shows. If you catch a new show about telephone company workers in NYC or about working at the Las Vegas airport, chances are that they had their start on Oprah last week!
All of a sudden, someone said she’s here, and we were on our feet cheering. Oprah entered the studio slowly (have you ever seen her fabulous, way too high shoes?) with a big smile and waves for the audience. She looked great. I don’t know why people call her overweight; she looked normal…like the majority of America. She was all business, starting the show as soon as she walked on the stage.
Ruby seemed to be Oprah’s favorite. She started the show, got the most airtime, and Oprah chatted with her during the commercials. She was humble and sweet and has an inspirational story (she once weighed 700 pounds and is now down to 365–all through diet and exercise–with 200 pounds to go). The newlyweds, Jen and Bill, were bright, well-spoken, and seemed happy. They agreed to do the show to show America what life is like for little people like them; they are both under 4 feet tall. It was hard to get super excited about Jon and Kate and their kids. They were via satellite, so it felt just like watching their show at home. However, it was interesting to see Kate squirm when Oprah asked her about the octopulet mom.
Oprah was all business during the commercial breaks (pauses when the crew readjusted the set or the makeup person touched her up). However, toward the end, she started to chat with the audience, talking about dogs (Jon and Kate had just gotten two puppies), home cooked meals, and dieting. She also extended a lovely thank you to the audience for coming to the show, and for still being interested in her after 24 years of broadcasting. And, then she was gone, we were out of chairs, out the door, and shopping in the Oprah store.
The really important questions remain:
1) When will the show broadcast? We don’t know yet. It hadn’t been scheduled as of Thursday, so check Oprah’s website for details. I imagine, based upon what the producers said, it will be broadcast during the second week of March. I’ll post an update here once I know.
2) Will I be on TV? No idea, but chances are that I will show up when they pan the audience. Look for the blonde in the red turtleneck!
Many thanks again to the hotel staff who got us tickets and to my co-worker, Karen, who was a great person to go to Oprah with!