Joanna and her brother

Show ideas for The Oprah Winfrey Show come from everywhere. In the case of a show on military families, the concept came from legendary newsman Tom Brokaw himself. "I was sitting right here in this office and got a phone call from Tom Brokaw. First he asked me do I know anybody who's serving in the armed services. I say no," Oprah says. "He goes, 'Well unless you know somebody, you really don't understand the issue of what's going on with some of the bravest families in America.' So that really gave me food for thought."

Producer Dana took the idea and ran, finding real military families to share their stories, and booking Tom, journalist Bob Woodward and first lady Michelle Obama to help tell those tales. "Michelle Obama really wants to take a turn and show a different side of military families," Dana says. "It's not about all the doom and gloom. She really wants to paint a different picture and help Americans see that these are men and women who have so much to give back to society."

The show also hits home with a member of Dana's team, senior associate producer Joanna. Her brother, an Army reservist, survived a military Humvee accident. "He ended up breaking his neck in two places and his back. And his dreams died that day," she says. "It's really hard on the family because you have to learn how to go with that new normal. And you want to embrace them as who they are and not remind them of who they once were because you can't go back to that."
Preshow meeting

During the military families preshow meeting, Dana tells Oprah for the first time that the first lady will be a part of the taping. Oprah wants to know how the booking came about.

Watch the conversation

Oprah says she's careful not to use her friendship with President and first lady Obama inappropriately. "I said before he was elected and certainly after he was elected, 'I don't want to in any way be seen as using my relationship, my friendship with the president for anything ever,'" Oprah says. "That is a rule that cannot be crossed."

As it turns out, first lady Obama asked to be a part of the show. "Our booking team's always in touch with the White House," Sheri says. "They had discussed that if you're ever doing anything with military families, we're on board."

Oprah is excited about the first lady's involvement—and the fact that the show will give viewers solid ideas on how to help. "I could weep over this," Oprah says. "It was very important to me that people would have a takeaway, that you would walk away from the show saying, 'I can do [this.]'"

Oprah and Michelle Obama

Tape day has arrived and just hours before the show starts, Oprah is cleaning up her office to prepare for the first lady's arrival. "Mrs. Obama had said that she wanted to spend some quality time with me before the show," Oprah says. "So I started to look around my office [wondering], 'What's Mrs. Obama going to see when she comes into this office?' She's going to see a lot of junk is what she's going to see."

Watch Oprah's mad-dash cleaning session

Then, Oprah gets word that the first lady has arrived. "I said to her, 'I'm so grateful that you can come and thank you so much,' and she said, 'I think we kind of bogarded our way in here,'" Oprah says. "Which says to me they did actually say, 'We really want to come.'"

Hang out with Oprah and Mrs. Obama

Joanna, Bob Woodward and Tom Brokaw

Meanwhile, an hour before taping, Joanna greets Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward. "Bob Woodward and Tom Brokaw have paved the way as far as reporting and covering military families and telling their stories," Joanna says.

Watch Joanna share her brother's story with Tom and Bob

"I know about Joanna's brother, and I feel in my heart if you have a family member or are a person who is serving our country, that this show would mean a sense of validation to you," Oprah says. "Because I know that often whatever is going on in your life, you feel like you're going through that alone. And so I think a show like this is important for what we do as a country and who we are as a country."
Michelle Obama, military family and Oprah

The show starts with 144 military family members present in the studio audience. "My goal is that we paint an accurate picture of what families are going through so that the viewers at home care," Dana says. "So they don't turn the channel and say this is not my war, this is not my problem. I hope we deliver."

The show is full of stand-up moments. Bob shares concrete ways that everyday people can help our veterans, and the first lady turns to a military wife and calls her a hero. "I thought that her saying to this military wife that you're my hero was one of the greatest moments I experienced. I thought that was so powerful because I just imagined what that moment will mean in that woman's life," Oprah says. "What was so great about it is that I know that is what Michelle Obama really believes. That wasn't just rhetoric."

At the end of the taping, Dana's team celebrates the show's success. "I was so honored today to be able to do a show that honored [my brother] and all the rest of the soldiers in America. And we have Oprah and the first lady asking people to pay attention," Joanna says. "I'm just proud."

Oprah is too. "I am happiest when this show gets to serve as a platform to get people to think differently. Not only about the issue but their relationship to the issue," Oprah says. "That show worked. That was the perfect show because it created the awareness, it made people think differently and also allowed them to take action based on those thoughts. You can't do better than that."

How you can help veterans

More with first lady Michelle Obama, Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward
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