Inside the Return to Williamson, West Virginia
In 1987, The Oprah Winfrey Show
visited the small town of Williamson, West Virginia. The town was thrust into the national spotlight when Mike Sisco, a local man with AIDS, jumped into a public swimming pool. It was a lightning rod for anger and fear about AIDS and homosexuality in 1987.
Look back at that show
For Season 25
's premiere week, Oprah and her team decide to revisit their landmark 1987 town hall episode. "Williamson was one of those seminal shows for us in that you were able to talk to real people regarding the most important health issue affecting our country," Oprah says.
Senior producer Jack is assigned to the show. As his team prepares to go on location, they must face critics in the town who aren’t ready to lay out the welcome mat a second time.
It's not just the residents of Williamson who are concerned—inside Harpo's walls, a battle brews as producers clash over revisiting the show. "I know I have my work cut out for me," Jack says. "I'm feeling apprehensive wondering whether this show is really going to come out the way we want it to or not."
Watch Jack and a co-producer, Brian, debate the intention of the show.
The pressure mounts as the team tries to locate townspeople who appeared on the first show to find out if their views have changed. As the team digs deeper, they realize this is no easy task—not everyone, it seems, feels differently now than they did back then.
"The worst thing in my mind that could happen is we shoot and bring Oprah and no one has an epiphany," co-producer Bridgette says. "I do not believe Oprah wants to have the same show."
Once Jack and his team return to Williamson for the taping, they discover not everything is as it seemed. They race against time to get their locations ready for filming before Oprah arrives. Then, just when it seems they're out of the woods, technical difficulties threaten the shoot at the local high school. "We are going to stay all night until I at least see something in my monitor that I'm watching that I like, that I can deal with," Jack says.
When Oprah arrives, Jack tells her he's afraid the show may not produce enough for a full hour. "If it doesn't, we will have failed," Oprah says.
Taping commences, and Oprah talks to Jerry, one of the most outspoken citizens against Mike. During their conversation, Jerry's mic cuts out.
Watch how Oprah handles the technical difficulties
When the conversation continues, the team is disappointed that he does not apologize to Mike's sisters for the way their brother was treated in 1987. "It was just more of the same from 23 years ago," Jack says. "I'm in a full-blown panic. In my head I'm thinking these people just spew the same venom and hate and we've given them a platform to do that again."
When Jerry is finished, Jack brings in the next group of guests—and finally gets the moment of contrition he had been hoping for. "Bob delivered exactly what we want. I think he had a light bulb moment while we were taping in Oprah's presence," Jack says. "To see a man who was 74 years old apologize was a great moment that I really think helped give the show heart and soul."
Watch how it unfolds
By the time the taping ends it had run 20 minutes over. "In 1987, I left [Williamson] with a sense of he wasn't able to have his say, Michael, be able to have real closure," Oprah says. "This show did that for him."
See full coverage of Jack's show
While Jack was taping in Williamson, producer Leslie dove into the Judds' final Oprah Show
appearance. Find out what surprise Leslie and the Judds cooked up for Oprah