Written by Duana
Do you mourn Oprah? Do you miss her? Do you wish she was still on the air?
I liked the Oprah show well enough. I watched sometimes and didn’t watch for weeks or months at a time and got annoyed when I would try to see it every day(because people did, and talked about it, and I was (am?) a certain type of pop culture snob that requires you to consume every single thing that’s on TV, at least before there were shows like ‘Best Week Ever’ and so forth) because it clogged up the PVR and sometimes I just didn’t care.
But I have fallen in love in a whole new way.
Are you watching Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes?
I’m not exaggerating when I say it is my favourite non-scripted TV program I’ve ever seen. In case you haven’t watched, they show you what happened during shows you loved. Like how Oprah made her producers quake in their boots at the idea that they might have invited Michelle Obama to appear on the show instead of her having heard about what they were doing – focusing on families in the services – and deciding she just had to be there. Because Oprah wouldn’t like it if she felt her friendship with the Obamas was being exploited.
It’s all about Oprah, of course, and she quite admirably spends most of the show in sweatpants and exactly zero makeup. But the meat of the show focuses on the myriad producers - roughly a 90/10 women-to-men split –who sacrifice their outside lives to make the show happen. They are regularly woken at 4:45 AM. They joke about how they never meet anyone to date, which, it’s clear, is happening because they are at work 20 hours a day. They are all wearing Gap and J Crew and I assume the reason for that is you can order them online and have them delivered to your house because these people never, ever get out of work during shopping hours. But then, that’s what’s required at this job. I hear Sheri Salata say it every episode.
Who’s Sheri Salata? Only the greatest unsung hero and puppetmaster of our time.
Sheri is the executive producer of the Oprah show. She is the one who gets Ms. Winfrey to do the things that need to be done. Like for example, she reminds her that yes, she has heard about this show concept before, and yes, a 30-year-old virgin who is not a virgin because of religious or traumatic reasons is kind of unusual, and maybe Oprah could just try the script as written and then they can change it afterwards if it doesn’t work?
Sheri is the puppetmaster. You know how they say “you have to make the person think it was their idea”? I am not great at that. You know who is? Salata. She pretends like she doesn’t really care which way anything goes down. She doesn’t fight Oprah on things. She manages everyone’s expectations of what’s going to happen. But then, she’s had the practice. Because Oprah is, of course, kind of crazy.
I don’t mean the singing or the toting of the shoes or the vaguely Aspergian ‘I heard my name, I heard my name’ or her ‘Famous People’s Letters’ Box (Oh My God). I mean in the way she relates to her producers.
There’s a reason we call this show ‘producer porn’. Because producers seem like they have a job that is i) wonderful, what with the swag and the perks and ii) easy. BTS, on the other hand, shows people what it’s like to have a job like this, and why ‘travelling with Oprah and Celebrities’, or Oprah and Gayle, or whatever, is not automatically a pleasure cruise. There are many many moving parts and most of them are egos. This is why when a ‘Senior Supervising Producer’ who has been with the show for 15 years suggests – gently – that maybe Oprah could reshoot a sequence that got lost, Oprah can merely respond ‘You must be out of your mind’. And she agrees “I am. I am out of my mind.”
Or like, if you’re a producer and you’ve arranged for a helicopter to shoot you and Oprah and some 300 ‘greatest fans ever’ atop the Sydney Bridge, and the helicopter runs out of gas before it can get the shot, and has to leave, and Oprah accuses you of lying about when it’s going to get back (which of course you are, because if you told her the truth – that she was going to be on top of the Sydney bridge for 20+ minutes, she would immediately get down and you would not have your shot), and then later tells you it wasn’t your fault - wouldn’t you go crazy?
You see, it’s producer porn because often, on-air talent are nutty nutty people. They have crazy jobs and lives and nobody more so than Oprah, who has clearly arrived at the point where she believes that she is, in fact, a deity to be revered. And they have to be nice to the public so they save the crazy for the few, the proud, the sleepless – their producers. But usually nobody knows this except the producers. Who accept it as a part of their jobs. So then, here is the genius…
Oprah knows what’s going on this show. She KNOWS how she’s being portrayed (which, I should stress, isn’t terrible – just self-focused). So, this woman who is the queen of all media, who has carefully constructed for herself an incredible media empire in which she controls every single facet and frame that goes out there…
So. Is this a love letter to her producers? To tell them she understands what it’s like to put this show together? Is it a mathematical formula that will allow her to expand her audience to people who don’t buy into the ‘Remembering Your Spirit’ stuff? If so, I’m a perfect example. Is it just hubris to think that people want to know so much about how Oprah puts a sweater on over her tank tops to go and inform audiences they’re going to be delayed(her lack of vanity really is astounding, you guys)?
I don’t know.
And then again, I don’t know anyone watching this show – living and breathing and giddy and messaging each other in the middle of the night – who isn’t in the business somehow. (I know that’s sad, and we’ll discuss diversifying my social circle at another time). So I don’t really know whether this is just a private treat for us, or whether everyone loves it.
So fill me in. Did you love Oprah and now watching BTS you’ve seen her in a slightly less flattering light? Did you not care and now you’re addicted? Are you going to join me in making Sheri Salata the president of the UN, so skilled is she in diplomacy? I want to know. Watch, let me know, yell at me, twitter at Salata (she tweets back). But don’t miss out on this, OK?
Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes runs until July.
PS. Jennifer Hudson was SO terrified of Oprah, it was amazing.
(Note from Lainey: Duana is a screenwriter and a producer. She was my producer at etalk before leaving to write at Degrassi: The Next Generation. She still produces me in life, often. )
Producer Porn: Behind The Scenes
Written by Duana