The Making of Oprah's Final Season Premiere
The Oprah Winfrey Show
's final season has arrived—and the stakes are higher than ever. As the Harpo Studios production staff returns from their summer hiatus, Oprah reflects on her 25 history-making years on the air. "We've always known that this was more than a television show, that this really is a platform for something that's bigger than television," she says. "We've got to raise the bar higher than it's ever been. And I believe we're going to do it."
Watch Oprah reflect on Harpo's history
On the first day back from summer hiatus, executive producer Sheri faces the daunting task of coming up with the biggest and best season premiere in Oprah Show history. "There is an Everest-like pressure to deliver the best 130 shows we've ever done," Sheri says. "The Season 25 premiere is the most important show for Oprah."
Secretly, an idea is hatched to surprise an audience comprised of "ultimate viewers"—loyal audience members who have watched and supported the show over its 25 years on air—with the ultimate trip of a lifetime to Australia.
The Australia trip is the biggest surprise the show has ever planned, and it's up to senior producer Jenna and co-producer Brian to make sure the episode comes off without a hitch. Jenna is no stranger to high-pressure shows—she produced the flash mob kickoff party and Oprah's Favorite Things. "When I was told I was doing the season premiere, I was like, 'OK, this is great and this is terrifying,'" she says.
The season premiere's surprises don't stop with Australia. Brian is given the challenging task of bringing a group of road-tripping ladies to the Oprah Show stage...without them knowing it! After they're surprised with what they think is a road trip to Chicago to see the season premiere, the women will hit the road. Once in Chicago, the ladies will be told they're parking at the hotel—but they'll really be driving into Harpo Studios, which has been disguised to look like a garage. Once inside, their car will literally drive onto the stage during the middle of the season premiere taping, a feat that requires planning, precision and patience. "I don't sleep," Brian says. "I wake up in cold sweats at 6 a.m. with a to-do list."
During a pre-show planning meeting with Jenna, Oprah expresses doubt that the team will be able to pull this one off. "This is the craziest thing I've ever heard," Oprah says. "How are you going to be able to get them to Chicago at exactly that time?"
Watch Jenna's meeting with Oprah
"I am feeling the pressure if this idea doesn't work," Jenna says. "Nobody's going to blame anyone more than I'm going to blame myself."
To pull off both big surprises, Jenna and Brian work closely with Tara, who oversees production design. Tara and her team aren't only turning Harpo into a parking garage—they're also building a plane for John Travolta to pop out of during the big Australia announcement. "It's too bad it's so small," Brian says. "That's a joke."
Three days before the season premiere, Brian meets Gayle King in Massachusetts to surprise the road trip ladies at breakfast.
See what happened
After the road trip surprise is revealed the ladies are ecstatic! Gayle hands over the keys to a new red Chevy that they can drive from Boston to Chicago for The Oprah Show
's season premiere.
With the ladies on their way, Brian heads back to Chicago to put the finishing touches on the show. "No rest for the weary," he says.
The morning of the season premiere, Oprah arrives at Harpo, gets a workout in and prepares breakfast for her and her dog, Sadie. "I didn't sleep a bit," Oprah says. "I had to finally get up at two in the morning and take some melatonin to try to go to sleep because I was so excited."
Tag along on Oprah's morning routine
Hours before taping, Jenna and Brian track the road trippers' progress. If the women arrive late, the entire surprise will be for nothing. "The pressure is pretty intense because nobody at Harpo thinks it can happen," Brian says.
As the car approaches one of the final checkpoints, Brian learns the women are 40 minutes behind schedule. "My worst fear is realized," he says. "I am definitely freaking out."
Minutes before showtime, Oprah drops by the greenroom to say hi to the man who will escort her onto the stage for her final season premiere— John Travolta. They practice their dance steps for their big entry. "I don't know of another person that I would have rather stood there [with] as we opened the season," she says. "What better person than somebody who we've had so much fun with, who I really like and who likes me. It's real. It's all real."
Watch John run through his moves with a producer
Back in the control room, Brian nervously checks on the road trippers' status. Pressure mounts as the minutes tick away with the ladies nowhere in sight.
Miraculously, the car arrives just in time. "I think for both Brian and I, it is a feeling of total relief," Jenna says. "The two of us against the world probably could handle a lot."
Experience the surprise with the control room
After the show, Oprah admits she was wrong to think the team couldn't pull it off. "It now ranks as the number one surprise of all time," she says. "They were right, I was wrong. I had to eat a little crow pie after that."
Finally, the moment everyone's been waiting for arrives—Oprah's Australia announcement.
After the show, Oprah congratulates her staff. "Every single thing [was] fantastic. Great job," she says. "Now that knocked my socks off!"
Later that night, Oprah hosts a champagne toast for the team in her office.
Watch the celebration
"That moment when Oprah is toasting our team and saying this was her favorite surprise, it's surreal," Brian says. "Because you don't think growing up that you'll be standing in Oprah Winfrey's office one day with her toasting you with a glass of champagne."
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