"Every single minute of the 24-hour cable network has been created with you, the viewer, in mind," Oprah says.
One of OWN's first shows, Season 25, will feature something Oprah fans have never seen before. "And I really do mean never!" Oprah says. "It's an uncensored look inside the private world of The Oprah Show."
Oprah says Season 25 will show the world what she already knows. "You know how James Brown used to say, 'I'm the hardest-working man in show business'? James Brown ain't got nothing on these people," Oprah says. "The Oprah Show staff, hands down, is the best team in television."
Senior producer Candi Carter leads one of several production groups that put together an episode of The Oprah Show every two weeks. She's also the mother of two young children. "For us to live up to the standard of Oprah and to be able to literally change people's lives, I mean the bar is really high. I feel like we're putting on an awards show every two weeks," she says. "But the sacrifice that we make is worth it. This year three little girls are no longer being molested because of a show that I produced."
Candi's team worked on the groundbreaking two-part show that featured 200 men speaking out about how they had been abused as children. "Do you know how hard it is to get 200 men to agree to come to an audience and say they were abused?" Oprah says. "Her team worked for three months on the phone all day and all night."
The day Oprah announced the end of The Oprah Show, senior supervising producer Lisa Morin says she knew the final season was going to be one no one would forget. Lisa, a mother of three, oversees producers as they put together shows.
"It's a high-pressure job—it has been for 15 years for me," she says. "When [Oprah] announced that the show was ending, [she] said to the world, 'We're going to knock your socks off.' I don't know about the rest of you, but that gave me a pit in my stomach. I was like, 'Oh my God.'"
So far, so good! "We are blowing the roof off this season," Lisa says. "It's been fantastic."
After 17 years with The Oprah Show, senior supervising producer Andrea Wishom can finally tell the world two secrets about her boss. First, Oprah is funny. "There's no question you're hilarious," she says.
Andrea only learned the second secret about Oprah while in Europe for interviews with Lisa Marie Presley and J.K. Rowling. To kill time, Oprah and Andrea played a few games of Scrabble—and Oprah took no pity on Andrea. "It was my first time, and you were not letting me get by with my little three-letter words," Andrea says. "She is amazing at [Scrabble] and very competitive...particularly after a couple Moscow Mules."
Oprah says when she first heard the idea for this surprise from co-producer Brian Piotriowicz and senior producer Jenna Kostelnik, she didn't think it was possible. After a little convincing earned Oprah's approval, Brian says the truth hit him—he not only had to organize the surprise, he had to keep it secret too. "Two weeks I was living with it and lying to the ladies the whole time," he says. "I was going to throw up."
Jenna says when the stunt worked to perfection, she felt nothing but relief. "I was just so nervous about it all working out. There were so many things that could have gone wrong," she says. "I was just, 'Whew.'"
"Did you want to say to me a big 'I told you so'?" Oprah says. "I would do it here on national television."
"You would? I told you so!" Jenna says.
For senior supervising producer Jill VanLokeren, getting former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman to sit down for an interview on the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial was no easy feat. "He's obviously been burned in the past. He needed to trust us, and he needed to trust our intentions," Jill tells Oprah. "The first thing he said to you in the green room was, 'I was really tough on your team.'"
Jill says making sure the guest's intentions are understood before the interview is crucial. After discussions with Mark stalled, Jill says she backed off. When she and Mark spoke again, he agreed to appear. "He came back and not only did it, he was only supposed to be on 20 minutes, [but] it ended up going the hour," Jill says. "He said it was the best television experience he's ever had."
When The Oprah Winfrey Show first started, Oprah says she figured out there are some parts of producing a talk show that she's not cut out for. "I'm the worst booker there is," Oprah says. "When we first started this show and there were just four of us and not 464, I was a booker. I lost every guest I tried to book. Because at that point when the person is saying, 'I don't think...' I go, 'Okay.'"
Now, there's a whole department at The Oprah Show that does nothing but try to get people to do what Oprah couldn't: say yes to an interview. For the 25th season, The Oprah Show's booking department has already secured exclusive interviews with Ricky Martin, Marie Osmond and Michael Jackson's family—and there are more on the way. "The booking department has been in overdrive this season," Oprah says.
Booking and talent relations director Cindy Mori says the most surprising element of booking guests for The Oprah Show is that some people decline the invitation. "Sometimes people that you might think would say yes end up saying no," she says.
Booking and talent relations manager Erin Sermeus says getting the Jackson family—including Michael's children—to agree to talk was especially difficult. "It was a process for sure," she says. "There are some things you can just never do again."
For 10 years, there has been one interview Oprah's wanted but hasn't been able to get: Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who murdered her two sons, but claimed that a black man had stolen her car and kidnapped her children. The interview has been shelved because the prison where Susan is serving her sentence won't allow an interview. "But there's a new governor in South Carolina," Erin says. "So you never know."
Whether it's a close-up of Oprah or a wide view of the audience, the job of calling the shots falls to The Oprah Show's director, Joe Terry. "Without his calm—and you have to be calm and cool in there—we'd be sunk," Oprah says.
Joe says one of the hardest shows he's directed was in Washington, D.C., during President Barack Obama's inauguration. "We only had eight hours to set up for the Kennedy Center show, so that was a very difficult experience," Joe says. "But somehow the angels seem to come down and touch us, and we do well with it."
One of the larger-than-life moments of the 25th season of The Oprah Show came when the reunited Backstreet Boys serenaded Noelle and Meghan, two of the boy band's biggest fans, as they stepped off a plane at O'Hare Airport.
Producer Leslie Grisanti's team—including senior associate producer Erinn McNeill and senior production assistant Gwen Martin—needed some help to pull off this stunt. Because the Backstreet Boys and Noelle and Meghan landed at around the same time, the producers had to scramble to make sure the surprise was flawless. "The timing was perfect, but Gwen really orchestrated all the logistics there on the ground," Leslie says.
For senior supervising producer Lisa Morin and producer Eric Peltier, the lowest moment of Oprah and Gayle's camping trip to Yosemite National Park came before they'd even arrived at the campsite. "You and Gayle are driving in the car singing, laughing, playing trivia," Eric says. "It was hilarious. It was just so far the best part of the trip that we had had. So we were like, 'This is fantastic.'"
But Lisa and Eric realized, to their horror, that their cameras hadn't recorded any of it. "This is the moment we almost threw up," Lisa says.
"So then we discussed how to tell Oprah Winfrey there's no tape," Eric says. "Plan A was: Don't tell Oprah Winfrey."
"But you kept bringing it up," Lisa tells Oprah. "'Oh, that part in the car when we were talking about Yogi. Gayle, that will be so great!'"
Luckily, Lisa and Eric did have audio of the conversation, so they were able to use wide shots with the audio.
While filming at Wynonna and Naomi Judd's family farm in Franklin, Tennessee, senior field producer Becky Liscum saw the Judd family dynamics up close. "Within 10 seconds of being in their presence, the dynamics between those two are just fireworks, you know? They get on each other, and now since they've been in so much therapy, they have the language to get back at each other," Becky says. "It's just hysterical. There's competition between the two of them, and you can spot it a mile away."
Oprah says this dynamic is exactly why she decided to make the Judds the subject of an OWN reality show, scheduled to air in 2011. "I just didn't want to do reality shows for reality shows' sakes. I was interested in the dynamics of human relationships," she says. "What is going on between them is what's going on between a lot of mothers and daughters. There is a lot to learn from that."
Oprah says her show never would work without a "fearless leader." "I'm at the head and right underneath me is the executive producer of this show, Sheri Salata, who is in the control room," Oprah says. "Sheri lost her beloved brother last year around Christmastime and has family members dealing with cancer. And in spite of all of that, she's here every day and one of the last people to leave every night. You are our leader. Thank you so much!"
Season 25 premieres on OWN on Saturday night, January 1, at 8/7c. Then, watch new episodes every Friday night at 8/7c.