Oprah and her producers

Oprah is surrounded by the people she calls "the best team in television"—the men and women who write the scripts, book the guests and plan every detail of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Many of these dedicated producers have worked alongside Oprah for 10 or more years, and we're pulling back the curtain to show viewers what it takes to put this landmark talk show on the air, day after day, year after year.

From giving away cars to an entire studio audience to organizing a flash mob in the middle of downtown Chicago, Oprah's producers are opening up about moments that made them proud, guests who touched their lives and shows they'll never forget.
Oprah and her sister, Patricia

Senior producer Candi Carter, a 15-year veteran of The Oprah Show, was the producer behind the highest-rated show in the past five years—when Oprah revealed she has a long-lost half sister. 

Oprah said she had no idea her mother had given up a baby in 1963, and it wasn't until 2010 that she received the news that shook her to her core: Oprah found out her half sister Patricia lived just 90 minutes away in Milwaukee.

Watch Oprah and Patricia reunite Watch

Not only was Oprah and Patricia's story a very complicated one to tell, the news needed to be kept secret so it wouldn't leak. "I'd say it was one of the best-kept secrets in Harpo history," Oprah says. "Only a handful of people in the entire company knew what was going on."

Candi was only able to talk about the show with one person on her team, co-producer Stacy Strazis. "I didn't even tell my mom!" Stacy says.

Even top executives in the company weren't privy to this show topic. "We locked the tapes in my office at night," Candi says. "We had to swear the makeup artists to secrecy the morning of the show."

The lock-and-key strategy worked—the taping went off without a hitch, and Oprah and Patricia were able to tell their story on their terms.
Jake Simpson and Stevie Wonder

After 15 years and more shows than she can count, Candi says one of her all-time favorite moments was making one singer's wildest dream come true. Jake Simpson, a Star Search grand champion, thought he was coming on the show in 2004 to talk about his big win. But, as Jake began to perform "Isn't She Lovely," the curtains parted to reveal Stevie Wonder—Jake's music idol!

The moment before Jake turns around to see Stevie is also one of Oprah's all-time favorite moments. "He's playing, and he's singing, and then, all of a sudden, the audience sees Stevie, and they start applauding," Oprah says. "He thinks it's about him, and then he turns around!"

"It's so good," Candi says. "He thought he was getting it right there, he was like, 'Yes!'"
Oprah's car giveaway surprise

It was one of the most talked about episodes of The Oprah Show ever.  During our 19th season premiere, each and every person in Oprah's studio audience received a new 2005 Pontiac® G6™.

Senior producer Terry Goulder says the car giveaway was the biggest undertaking of his career. "One of the biggest challenges was to keep this huge secret from getting out," he says. "We basically had to put curtains around our parking lot and bring them all in the night before under the cover of darkness. You could still tell something huge was going on, but somehow the word never leaked out."

The gravity of keeping such an elaborate secret can be intimidating, especially to a new employee. "I'd only been working at The Oprah Show for a couple weeks when I was given the assignment to find people who actually needed cars and to somehow get them to the studio without giving away one of the biggest secrets we've ever had on the show," says Kirsten Williams, a senior associate producer. "It was terrifying!"

Senior field producer Gail Grasso can attest that the audience was more than a little excited. "I had no idea just how fast people would come running out of that studio," she says. "I swear to you, if you check the videotape, I was just about stampeded by people!"
Hugh Jackman

Every producer at The Oprah Show has a favorite celebrity moment, and senior associate producer Shantel Klinger's is a doozy. In 2008, Shantel got to take a trip in a tiny sea plane with actor Hugh Jackman to view his hometown, Sydney, Australia, from above.

"I was terrified, and he could tell," Shantel says. "So he decided to start singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to me. I sat back, decided to enjoy it, and thought, 'If I'm going to go down, at least I'm going down with Hugh Jackman.'"
John Travolta

The moment senior associate producer Ray Dotch will never forget involved Hollywood leading man John Travolta. After playing the role of a firefighter in Ladder 49, John wanted to surprise two real-life heroes, firemen Phil and Kenny, at their Detroit firehouse. "I planned this shoot out to a tee," Ray says. "I had synchronized watches, and we had charts and graphs and maps and code words and all kinds of things to insure that nothing could possibly go wrong. I had thought of every single thing except for one...a real fire."

Rather than surprising the firefighters, it was Ray and John who were shocked when the alarms went off and fire trucks started flying out of the firehouse doors. "We just stand there on the streets of Detroit and wait for them all to come back," Ray says. "Eventually they do, but it certainly was a heart-beating moment."
Flash mob

One of the biggest productions Oprah's staff has attempted in the past 25 years took place right in the middle of Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

Watch the flash mob in action! Watch  

More than 20,000 people filled the streets to perform the same dance at the same moment. Suzanne Hayward, Jenna Kostelnik, Amy Coleman, Jill Barancik, Tracey Carter and Ann Lofgren were part of the team crazy enough to pull off such a ginormous stunt. "First of all, it was a completely insane idea," Suzanne says.

On top of teaching a dance to thousands of people, the team also wanted to keep it a secret from Oprah. "The reaction on your face is one of my favorite moments, ever," Suzanne says.

Taking over one of the busiest streets in Chicago was a feat in and of itself. "It was nerve-wracking because we had to kind of become city planners," Jenna says. "We were asked to go in front of 50 police officers and city planners, explain our plan."

Although Oprah doesn't like surprises, even she says this was a good one. "Our intention was love," Amy says. "It was a love song to Chicago. When you watch that, you just feel complete and total love."
Christian Louboutin

In 2007, Oprah wanted to meet the designer behind fashion's fiercest red-soled stilettos: Christian Louboutin. Co-producer Stacy Strazis was given this glamorous assignment, and she flew to Paris to shoot with Christian.

At the time, there was a transportation strike in Paris—so Christian told Stacy to hop onto the back of his Vespa scooter. The next thing Stacy knew, she was living a dream. "We take off," Stacy says. "The sun is setting, Christian starts singing 'I Love Paris in the Springtime.' Later that night, he gave me a pair of his famous, beautiful red-soled shoes."
Jon Bon Jovi

Senior supervising producer Katy Davis had her own rockstar moment while working on a show with Jon Bon Jovi. "I love him," Katy says. "He came up with this idea to surprise Oprah with a million dollars to help Katrina victims, and we partnered with [the band] to build a really fabulous Katrina neighborhood.”

Katy and Jon worked closely together on the project for nine months. "I still always think it's so fun when my assistant would say, 'Jon Bon Jovi's on the phone for you,'" Katy says.
Leslie Grisanti

Producer Leslie Grisanti says her biggest "pinch me" moment was the day she met Oscar® winner Colin Firth. "I probably have seen Pride and Prejudice—I'm embarrassed to admit this—but probably 150 times," she says.

Leslie not only met Colin, she also got him to sign her copy of Pride and Prejudice. "It says, 'To Leslie: Great to meet you. Love, Colin Firth.' And there's an 'X' which means there's a kiss," Leslie says. "I love it."
Caroline Ziv and Jakki Richardson

In 2006, producer Caroline Ziv and senior associate producer Jakki Richardson didn't mind at all when they found out what their latest show assignment was: to find eligible, single men over the age of 35.

"I was 35 and single at the time," Jakki says. "Sign me up!"

Caroline and Jakki led the charge and searched for America's most eligible bachelors.

Caroline: It was like Christmas and Valentine's Day and New Year's.

Jakki: Hanukkah.

Caroline: Mardi Gras.

Jakki: All of it wrapped in one big, happy basket.
Osmond family reunion

In 2007, Oprah's team came up with a plan to host an Osmond family reunion. The only problem was, there were 126 Osmonds!

See more than 100 Osmonds come together on our stage

What the viewers don't know is that this memorable show could have been canceled. Just two days before the taping, the patriarch of the Osmond family, Donny and Marie's father, George, passed away at the age of 90.

After hearing the news, Tara Montgomery, the lead producer on that show, says she waited for Donny to call and cancel their appearance. "Donny called me and said, 'Tara, we're all coming,'" she says. "They delayed the memorial service. They did not have a memorial service for their father because they were so committed to this show, all coming together and celebrating their family."

Arranging for 126 people to fly across the country was no easy task—but Tara says the Osmonds did it with a smile. "I've worked here 16 years," she says. "I've worked with every celebrity that you can think of, and there is no doubt in my mind, if anybody asks me in 30 years, 'Who was the nicest celebrity?' Donny Osmond and his family."

Senior field producer Melinda Morrison says she was amazed by how tight-knit this famous family was. "Donny and Marie knew all of their [family members'] names," she says. "They really are connected."
Oprah Show producers

When people find out you work for The Oprah Show, the producers say, there are two questions you get asked the most:
  • What is Oprah really like?
  • How do I get tickets to Favorite Things?
Caroline answers the second question, once and for all. "The fact is, producers cannot get family members or friends into Favorite Things audiences," she says.

"You can't even know somebody who knows somebody and get into the Favorite Things show," Oprah says. "We have always been very, very strict about that."
Favorite Things

To make the last-ever holiday giveaway twice as memorable, Oprah decided to do not one, but two Favorite Things shows with two different audiences. "I'm not a practical joker at all, but I love the idea of having the first audience leaving and then everybody seeing them with their bags and being so upset that they got the second show that was going to be about kitchen appliances and meditation," Oprah says.

The two shows took months to prepare, and the teams took every detail into account, all the way down to the presents, which are hand-wrapped with fabric on the set. "That's what I love about this team," Oprah says. "Our motto is 'Love is in the details.'"

One of the biggest undertakings that goes on behind the scenes is the unpacking and repacking of all of the gifts. "There's 20,000 things to stuff into these bags in two days with about 15 of us in a garage," senior associate producer Alejandro Castro says.

"You can't hire any outside work because it's all secret," co-producer Brian Piotrowicz says.

To get all 350 gift bags packed, Brian says his alter ego "Earl" occasionally comes out and keeps everyone in line.

Watch the clip! Watch  
Jack Mori

During the five years that Dr. Oz was a regular guest on The Oprah Show, senior producer Jack Mori says there was one subject that always seemed to come up. "I have never seen a guy so enthusiastic about poop," he says. "The color, the consistency and the shape."

Yes indeed, around these parts, Jack is known as the "poop producer."

"I went to a family reunion, and I hadn't seen some of my relatives in 10 years, including one cousin," Jack says. "She comes up to me, and she's like, 'Oh my God, why is my poop not S-shaped?' I said, 'You haven't seen me in 10 years. I got married, had kids—that's the first question you want to ask me?'"
Bernadette Robinson

The most meaningful guest senior producer Julie Simpson says she ever worked with was Bernadette Robinson. Bernadette had three children of her own before taking in her seven nieces and nephews after they were placed in state custody. They lived in a tiny apartment and slept three to a bed.

"[Bernadette] had really put aside her own desires, her own needs, her own wants to take care of these children," Julie says. "It's one of the most selfless acts I've ever heard of."

When the team found out about Bernadette and her family, they arranged for the kids to go on a shopping spree at Toys-R-Us. But where would they keep all their new toys?

During the show, Oprah surprised Bernadette with some news. "We are buying you a house!" she said.

"It was one of my proudest moments, not just as an Oprah Show producer, but just as a human being," Julie says.
Jim MacLaren

Clothilde Ewing, a senior associate producer, says Jim MacLaren is the guest she'll never forget. When Jim was 22 years old, he was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a bus. His leg was amputated, but he fought through it. He started running and exercising again. Eight years later, he was training for a triathlon when he was hit by a truck. After this second accident, he became paralyzed.

"He told me that he saw both accidents as a gift because he said it wasn't until that second accident that he realized what was really important in life," Clothilde says. "Meeting Jim taught me why it's important to be positive, and he also taught me that anything is possible."
Suzanne Hayward

In 2002, Oprah and her staff traveled to South Africa on a ChristmasKindness journey to bring holiday joy to schoolchildren and orphans devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Producer Suzanne Hayward says the experience—and the outfit she ended up wearing—are unforgettable.

"I thought, 'I'm going to be there in the responsibilty role, making sure everything gets done,'" she says. "And I end up in a fairy princess costume!"

Suzanne wore her princess ensemble while handing out presents and playing with the children. "I was really nervous about how I would look, but all of that apprehension just melted away when I saw that I could make this such a magical day for them," she says. "It ended up being one of the most profound experiences of my life."
Brian Piotrowicz

Brian had a life-changing experience when he worked with Christine McFadden, a guest whose ex-husband murdered her four children while she was out on her morning walk.

"The whole intention of the show was that she survived this, and her message reached out to a lot of people on the show," Brian says. "But it meant even more to me than just that. Christine gave me a picture of her children, and for the last six years, I've carried that picture in my wallet every single day of my life. The idea of why I carried the picture was to remind me not to sweat the small stuff because, if Christine could survive this, I could get through anything. And I think so can anyone."

Brian still keeps in touch with Christine, and he says she is doing much better. "She's gotten remarried and had twins, which is amazing," he says.
Jen Stamper

One viewer wrote in on Facebook and asked the producers, "What's the toughest assignment you've ever had?"

Co-producer Jen Stamper says the hardest assignment is always talking with someone who has recently lost a loved one. "It's obviously very emotional, and you try to stay professional," she says. "You don't want to make them feel worse than they already do, and they're sharing such intimate moments with you and such personal feelings."

Five years ago, Jen worked on a story about a mother whose daughter had been abducted and brutally murdered. "I was trying so hard to keep it together and listen to her story, but it was just so heartbreaking, and I couldn't. I lost it. I couldn't even speak to her, and I was crying so hard, I had to apologize and explain to her, 'I'm so sorry, I have a 2-year-old at home; I'm about to give birth to two more little girls, and the story is just touching me so much.' I was just a wreck."
Oprah and Gayle

Senior field producer Rita Thompson has worked for The Oprah Show for 16 years and says her all-time favorite shoot was when Oprah and Gayle traveled back in time to the 1600s.

"We shot it on location somewhere in the backwoods of Maine," she says. ???And you two had dressed up like colonists, and you were shocked to find out that the women back in that time did not wear underwear."

Rita says Oprah was a good sport about the adventure. "I think somebody gave you a couple of leaves as a substitute for toilet tissue," Rita says.

It wasn't until Gayle heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet in the attic that they decided enough was enough. "That was the deal breaker," Rita says. "But that was a great shoot."
Jill Adams

Oprah's Book Club producer Jill Adams says the best part about her job is meeting the writers she has admired her entire life.

“I remember when I first met Toni Morrison. I've been reading her since I was in high school, and I just couldn't believe I was going to be in her presence. She couldn't have been more warm and inviting," Jill says.

Sharing her love of reading with others has also been a gratifying experience for Jill. "One of the things that's really been incredible is the number of famous faces that you never knew were huge Book Club readers like Kelsey Grammer, Charlize Theron, Jim Carrey, Alicia Keys and even President Bill Clinton," she says.
Katherine Jackson

One of Oprah's biggest interviews of the 25th season was with Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine, and his children.

Senior field producer David Rivera was tasked with making sure there were no surprises during the shoot—but he says stepping into the Jackson home was a surprise in itself. "You walk in and there are these big statues and busts and pieces of art with Michael Jackson everywhere," he says. "It's like stepping into this alternate universe where everything is Jackson."
Wigwam Hotel

The cross-country road trip Oprah and Gayle took in 2006 is a viewer favorite, and senior supervising producer Lisa Morin says there is one specific moment that stands out to her.

While looking for a hotel for Oprah and Gayle to stay in while driving through Arizona, Lisa and associate producer Ann Lofgren found the perfect place: the Wigwam Hotel.

After 12 long hours on the road, Oprah and Gayle arrived at their tepee. "You weren't in a very good mood when you saw the wigwam and the tepee motel—your reaction was one of my favorite authentic moments," Lisa says to Oprah.

"Yes, because my reaction was, 'You think I'm sleeping here?'" Oprah says. "I went in that wigwam, [and] there wasn't a window!"
FROM: Oprah Show Producers' Most Unforgettable Moments
Published on April 18, 2011


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