Gayle: Because, Oprah, you were opening the mail.
Oprah: And answering it.
Gayle: Between Taco Bell runs.
Oprah: Between Taco Bell runs! So when I started getting hundreds of letters a week, I was like, "I need somebody to help me." I remember when offers came in to do interviews with Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Ladies' Home Journal all in one day. And Alice says, "Well, I don't know. Which one should we do?" I said, "I don't know." So she goes, "I'm gonna call my mom. Because she gets all those magazines."
Gayle: And Alice's mom said go with Good Housekeeping because you get...
Oprah: ...the Good Housekeeping seal of approval! I mean, there was no research, no sense of the distribution, or popularity, or what. That's how we decided everything.
Gayle: Oprah, how did you decide to shift the whole focus of the show, when it became Change-Your-Life TV...
Oprah: Talk about big mistakes! Calling it Change-Your-Life TV was a huge one. The reason I called it that is that every time I met somebody, they'd say, "Oh, I watched such-and-such show, and it changed my life." Or "I really loved this, it changed my life." I remember being at the grocery store one time, and this woman was following me. You know that thing where people are looking at you, and you go, "Hi, how you doing?" And then you go around the corner, and they're still there.
Gayle: "Hi, how you doing again?"
Oprah: "Good to see you, how you doing again?" And then you realize, "Okay, they're gonna track me all the way to the counter." But this one woman just stopped and said, "Can I tell you something?" And I said, "Sure." And she goes, "I used to beat my kids. And I watched you say you're not supposed to beat your kids. That didn't make no sense to me, because I was beat. My mom was beat. But I kept watching you. And it wasn't the first time you said it." She goes, "It's because you were consistent. You were consistent. So I said, 'I'm gonna try it. I'm gonna just try it for a week, not to beat my kids.'" And she said, "I tried it for a week. Then, 'I'm gonna try it another week.'" She said, "And now, I can't remember how long it's been." She goes, "I don't beat my kids anymore—and I got different kids."
Gayle: Isn't that remarkable?
Oprah: She said, "You changed my life. And you really changed my kids' lives." This was in a grocery store. And this kind of thing was happening all the time. I'd meet somebody, and they'd say, "I went back to school because of you." "I got out of an abusive marriage because of you."
Gayle: Or "I listened to what those child molesters had to say on your show, and I realized I didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't my fault."
Oprah: Yeah. Someone just sent me an e-mail the other day saying it's been a year now since she saw that show, and it completely turned her life around. Even at her stage, and with her intelligence, it wasn't until she saw that show that she finally got that it wasn't her fault. Which was the point. So, that is why I started calling it Change-Your-Life TV. But I got hammered by the press about it. And I couldn't understand why. Then one day Marianne Williamson helped me to see it. She said, "It's because people perceive you as being a zealot. You've got to let people come to it in their own way, on their own terms. You want everyone to want it too much." So I pulled back. And that was a great lesson to me. Do not tell people you're gonna change their life. It can't be your mission, because it puts you in a position of authority over people. You want to be able to offer that, but it's up to them if they choose to receive it.
Gayle: You made a very conscious decision to try to take the high road when a lot of television wasn't going that way.
Oprah: The general managers at the television stations wanted me to do more controversial things. But I finally said, "No, I'll get out of the business before I let that happen." If you look back, there was a period when we had a whole bunch of trashy things on. And when I look at it now, I can't believe I did that, all in the name of communication.
We Hear You!