Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Oprah Effect

Oprah's show went national while I was in school.  I watched a lot of TV, but not a lot of talk shows.  But I checked out this Oprah chick and watched quite a few.  (It didn't hurt that it came on right about when I arrived home from school, after the tail end of "General Hospital".)

My life changed, I went off to college and then to jobs and things and I watched only intermittently, but certainly the TV landscape is different and so - here are 7 episodes I still remember.

1. Secret pregnancies - as in secret to the pregnant person.  In what seemed like the plot of a soap opera, four women shared their stories.  The amusing thing, in retrospect - given the series "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" - was that they brought out an expert on pregnancy and asked how common this is, and the expert said she thought these guests must represent most of the sample, it wasn't very common at all.
2. I can't swear it was the first favorite things episode, but on an early one, there were ereaders.  (It was the Franklin, so, a decade ago.) I had heard of ebooks, knew that some people were digitizing their backlist, I just, as the proud owner of a desktop computer, couldn't imagine all my reading time occurring in front of my bulky monitor.  But being able to take all those books on vacation?  That I could see.
3. This episode probably had a different theme than I remember, but it was basically audience stories.  They were asking questions, and audience members were finding there way to mikes to share, and one question was lies my parents told me.  One woman said she had asked her parents why some people had different skin color and her parents told her when babies were made they got baked in an oven, and some people baked longer.  (I find this memorable in part because it is such a convoluted answer for something that could have been answered so simply.)
4. There was an episode dedicated to soap operas.  There was a huge segment of guests from all different shows and they talked about crazy plotlines, what to do when a new actor plays the same role, and so on.  And I remember Kim Zimmer talking about techniques for crying and after a detailed explanation about process she said - if that doesn't work, yank out a nose hair.
5. There were shows about weight loss and weight gain.  And Oprah was very honest about her own struggles, which seems obvious to people who have watched the show, but there were (and are) so many talk shows where the host was maintaining an air of impartiality, and often even superiority. 
6. And speaking of inserting herself into the story, there was her interview with Steven Spielberg where she pulled out her diary from shooting "The Color Purple" and read bits, including bits where she was sure he hated her and wished he could fire her. (He didn't.)

7.  This interesting thing about the Jane Elliot appearance to me, other than it's whole audience experience and really fascinating demonstration of how embedded racial stereotypes are in the culture, is that when they re-ran it years later, they put so many bumpers warning the viewing audience about the exercise.  To me, part of the fascination had been watching the episode when it originally aired, not knowing what was going on, wondering why half the audience was wearing collars and being taunted.  Being warned that it was an exercise, didn't allow for your won organic reaction to what was going on, and made it a far less interesting thing.  (Wikipedia has a link about her work and the brown eyed/blue eyed exercise.)