Day Three General Session: The Big O

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Paula Zahn; shame on me for that.

I should have known Oprah was not going to talk about reach and penetration.  She wasn’t going to talk about launch dollars or affiliate fees.  She wasn’t even going to talk about advertising revenue or cable households.

She was going to talk about one thing, and one thing only; the power of the Oprah brand.

In fact, right up front when asked by Zahn about the Oprah brand, she prefaced her answer with the admission, “I guess I have to admit it, I am a brand now.”

What made Oprah’s talk with Zahn so perfect was because, just like everything else in her ever-expanding empire, she poured so much of herself into it.  The Day Three General Session opening act was part The Oprah Winfrey Show, part girls’ night out, and part old-time revival meeting, with the Queen of Daytime preaching to high heaven about her passions and the things that have made her successful.

And it was great fun.

Among the highlights:

  • Oprah, who has the uncanny ability to make every person she ever interviews (or even meets) seem like her friend, calling David Zaslav, “Zas” and “Z Man.”
  • She told the audience that if she had to do it all over (starting a network) she would have built it one night at a time, nesting shows and building viewers on a night-to-night basis, rather than launching 24/7 right off the bat.
  • After shuttering her old show, she said she needed some “time away from the trenches.”  Oprah then said, “After Australia we came back and I thought that’s it. It’s over. There’s nothing more we can put under your chair.  There’s not another thing we can give you.”  She then looked over the the General Session hall full of thousands of chairs and hundreds of Cable Show attendees, took a beat and said, “That goes for y’all too.”
  • After Oprah admitted that patience was not a virtue she had in deep supply, Zahn smiled and quipped the same could be said for a lot of cable executives.
  • Oprah admitting the two guests she wishes she had gotten during the run of her show were two notorious killers; Susan Smith, the young mother of two who murdered her small children, but who first claimed they’d been abducted, and Mr. White Ford Bronco himself, O.J. Simpson.  “I have a dream of O.J. confessing to me,” she told the crowd.  “And I’m gonna make it happen.”
  • Her hellfire-and-brimstone tone, telling the audience that her greatest gift is her ability to connect with people, and then saying the world doesn’t need just another cable network.  It needed a network “where hearts could be opened” and “lives could be inspired.”  A network where viewers’ lives could become “more enhanced, more awakened, more alive.”
  • She followed that up with: “I have committed everything I have to this cable venture. It is my heart… my soul… everything,” before looking out into the audience and saying,  “And I wouldn’t bet against me.”

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