Cindy and Erin

On February 10, 1993, Oprah sat down with Michael Jackson for what would be the most-watched interview in television history. Michael, a fiercely private entertainer, had refused to give an interview for 14 years. The unprecedented live event drew a worldwide audience of 90 million people. "It was the most exciting interview I'd ever done because it was live around the world," Oprah says. "It's the only time that I can recall being so nervous that my knees were literally shaking."

For months, booking director Cindy and booking manager Erin have been working to secure an interview with Michael's mother, Katherine. "Seeing Michael Jackson through the eyes of his mother, Katherine Jackson, would be of major interest to me and also to our viewers," Oprah says.

Finally, at the start of the season, the team gets the call they've been waiting for—and more. Katherine has agreed to do the interview, along with Michael's three children, Prince Michael, Paris and Blanket. "This will be the world exclusive," Erin says.

Cindy, Erin and senior supervising producer Andrea can't wait to share the news and interrupt a meeting in executive producer Sheri's office. "I think that's the biggest interview we can get this year," Cindy says. 
Pre-show meeting


The team gives Oprah the good news in their pre-show meeting. "When we first started pursuing the Jackson interview, we never told Oprah that Michael's children might be a part of the interview because one of my booking mottos is under-promise and over-deliver," Cindy says.

Oprah is thrilled. "I never think anything's big," Oprah says. "But I think this is big."

Still, there's little time to celebrate. The conversation quickly turns to the real focus of the show. The Jacksons aren't just a famous family—they are a family coping with the loss of a beloved son and father. "The first thing I thought about, I have to say, was Michael Jackson and what would Michael Jackson say about his children being interviewed?" Oprah says. "And then, the question is how to do it in such a way that you're not exploiting the children."

Cindy has another concern to bring up to Oprah. "Mrs. Jackson told Erin her feelings were hurt that they never heard from you after the '93 interview," Cindy says.

Watch to see how Oprah responds 
David and crew


The pressure is on as the team goes on location to Hayvenhurst, the Jackson family compound, to make sure that everything goes as planned. Before entering the Jackson's home for the first time, senior field producer David lays down rules for his crew. "This is a very, very, very sensitive shoot. Be on your best, most professional behavior out here. That means no smoking at all. That means cell phone conversations—don't have them," he says. "No photography at all. Do not engage anybody on the property. If you need to know something, talk to me or talk to Erin."

Driving up to the door, the weight of the situation hits Erin. Although Katherine and the children have agreed to do the interview, there's no guarantee it will actually happen. "I had some nerves and butterflies. Pulling up was the thing where I went, 'Oh wow, we're really here. Michael Jackson's childhood home where his children live today.' It becomes very real very quick," Erin says. "One misstep, [the interview] could go away."

Andrea is also feeling the pressure to make sure Katherine and the kids will talk to Oprah. "In a situation like this, you don't really know what's going to happen until you are actually there looking at someone in their eye," Andrea says. "Especially in such a high profile background situation and such a sensitive booking."
Scouting the library

The team does everything they can to make sure there are no surprises on this shoot. While scouting the property, the show team and Jackson estate agree to have Oprah do the first part of her interview with Katherine in the library. Before it became Katherine's library, Katherine's assistant and nephew Trent tells Erin this room used to hold all of Michael's awards before they were moved to Neverland.

As furniture is moved to accommodate the cameras, a Harpo crew member takes detailed digital pictures of the room so that everything can be put back in its proper spot.

Later in the day, Trent pulls Erin aside to discuss the interview with the children. Because of the number of people involved in making this interview happen, Erin says Trent started hearing stories that Oprah might not be the one talking to them. "He expressed a lot of concern about how Michael's children would be incorporated in this interview to make sure that Mrs. Jackson felt comfortable," Erin says. "She is their grandmother. She is their protector. She will do anything to make sure that they are handled in the right way."

Erin assures him Oprah will be the only person talking to the children on camera. "The call I don't want to make is that Michael's children will not be participating," Erin says. 
Oprah and Joe Jackson

The day of the taping, it quickly becomes clear that nothing is certain. Inside, the team is still worried the children might decide not to talk to Oprah. Outside of Hayvenhurst's walls, paparazzi are staked out after hearing about Oprah's visit. "Today's the day of the big interview, and the first thing I want to do is make sure that the plan we discussed yesterday is the same plan that everybody's on today," Andrea says. "The worst thing that can happen now is that, you know, the kids could decide they don't want to do it."

Watch Andrea prep Oprah when she arrives 

Complicating matters are the dozens of unexpected guests inside the compound—including Michael's father, Joe. "There were at least 50 people around. Mrs. Jackson's people. And then there's Mr. Jackson and his people. Friends of the family and their people," Andrea says. "Every time we turned around there's more people."

Watch Joe greet Oprah 

As Oprah tries to find Katherine, she's intercepted by various bystanders. "There are so many different people in the house, and I couldn't tell who all those people were," Oprah says. "I'm just trying to meet Mrs. Jackson."

Still, Oprah's confident the interview will go well. "I believe that there's almost no situation that I can't handle, and it is whatever it is," Oprah says. "I can just sort of meld into whatever that moment is. I believe in staying present, staying now, dealing with that and not worrying about what is to come."
Oprah and Katherine

As the interview begins in the library, Oprah asks Katherine what gave her the strength to get through the night Michael died. "Mrs. Jackson is one of the loveliest, dearest people I've ever met," Oprah says. "In that moment, I could see that she is like every other mother who has lost her son who's gone too soon. That's what I felt. That was just raw, pure, mother's love and emotion."

Erin tears up as Katherine tells her story. "I was so happy to see Mrs. Jackson and Oprah connecting," Erin says. "Mrs. Jackson finally telling the untold story of his son and his life and who he was. There was much more to him than people understood."
Oprah, Katherine and Joe

After speaking with Katherine in the library, Oprah heads outside to speak with Katherine and Joe in the garden. "We all didn't quite know what to do with Joe Jackson because I don't want to interview Joe Jackson. I'm not there to interview Joe Jackson, but I'm not sure Joe Jackson knows that I'm not there to interview Joe Jackson," Oprah says. "I could see he wanted to talk or was feeling like why are you talking to her and not me. I just thought, okay, let's just roll with it."

As the conversation evolves, Oprah asks Joe about whether he abused his children. "Listen, we've all heard the stories about Joe Jackson," Oprah says. "Most of the stories I heard came from his son Michael Jackson." 

See what Joe had to say 

"These are not easy, breezy questions. I mean, she is going for it," Erin says. "The kids still have not joined the interview. They still have not sat down. I'm getting nervous if the rest of this interview is going to happen." 

Watch Oprah and Katherine share a special moment
Oprah meets the children

Finally, the moment the team has been waiting for arrives. Prince, Paris and Blanket greet Oprah along with a number of their cousins. "Oprah, she's got it," Erin says. "She's going to make it all happen."

Watch Oprah greet the children 

Over lemonade, Michael's children tell Oprah their favorite memories of their dad. "I wanted to respect the memory of Michael Jackson and not do it in such a way that we would exploit, in any way," Oprah says. "Seeing Michael Jackson through the eyes of his children makes him more real, more accessible than anybody else you could interview." 

Watch Paris and Prince share their memories 

The team couldn't be happier about the interview's outcome. "What's wonderful about the outcome of this is that the world saw Michael's children in a very different way than they did a year and a half ago at his funeral," Erin says. "You see three vibrant, thriving children who love their father."
Oprah says goodbye

After talking with the children, the interview wraps and the team breathes a sigh of relief. "I think my team worries more about how things are going to be—will I be OK? Will everything be OK?—more than I do," Oprah says. "Maybe one of the reasons I can do that is I have such a good team."

Mrs. Jackson then brings in a chef to prepare a special dinner for her family, Oprah and Gayle, who has come along to watch the interview.

Oprah says she felt a true connection with Katherine. "I can see why Michael loved her so much. The humanity and sweetness of her heart has remained exactly the same," Oprah says. "It's like she just moved from Gary yesterday. What I loved about that interview is that there was no pretense whatsoever and no showmanship."

After dinner, Oprah says she would like to call Katherine and sit down again—without the cameras. "I would love that," Katherine says.

Meanwhile, back at Harpo, another big interview is taking shape as senior supervising producer Katy and her team score the first major interview with freed American hiker Sarah Shourd, newly released from Iranian prison.  

Go inside this newsworthy booking


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