Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What it's like to "go on Oprah"

I promised a full recap of my Tuesday morning on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and here it is.

First, the tickets. For about the past year, I've been periodically checking the last minute tickets section of the Oprah website. It it used to fill out audiences, the topics never interested me. It was always "Do you have a diet question for Dr. Greene?" "Do you have the ugliest room in America?" or "Do you have a teen daughter who is out of control?"

Then, early last week, Oprah producers were looking for people who had seen An Inconvenient Truth and had a question for Al Gore. I wrote in and got a call from a producer the very next morning!

Fast forward a week to Tuesday. Gloria picked me up at 6:45am and we drove to Harpo Studios in the West Loop. Parking across the street is a steep $20, but there isn't really any alternative. We join the line outside the building a few minutes after 7am, and, in spite of the tent protection, it is bone-chillingly cold. The two groups in front of us in line don't strike us as looking particularly eco-friendly, and indeed, when one of them turns around to ask us if we know the show's topic, they roll their eyes and groan at the mention of global warming.

We make it inside the building around 7:45, but there is still bag check, ID check, metal detectors and purse inspections to make it through. We'd been warned to downsize our bags and leave cell phones in the car, but it seemed most of the audience members there had not. There was an organized system for checking big bags and electronic items, leaving the average Oprah fan with three different claim tickets.

From there we could make a pit stop and Gloria noted that there were two women's rooms and one men's. Apt, given the gender breakdown.

That done, we were ushered upstairs to a giant waiting room that resembled nothing so much as a bus or train terminal. It was about 8:15am and all of the 250-odd seats were taken, and one of the ushers directed us into one of the standing room only lines. But we'd only been standing long enough to fill out our release forms before my name was called out over the loudspeaker. We joined about 10 other women who had e-mailed in questions for Al Gore, and we were "randomly assigned" seats in the studio. We ended up about halfway up the center right risers.

Oprah's studio seemed smaller in person that I had imagined it. It is immaculately clean, and the metallic accents, together with all the bright lighting, make it a warm, cheerful place. Producers ushered the rest of the audience in, occasionally giving priority seats to groups with the "best colors" on their clothing.

By 8:40 the entire audience was seated and the producers warmed us up a bit, coaching us to be ready to say "awww" when something was cute or gasp at awful truths. Oprah made her appearance while a producer was talking, so there was no grand entrance. She joked around with the audience for the final 10 minutes before the show was to go live, complaining that she was bloated from her breakfast of Shredded Wheat and mouthing the bad words we're not allowed to say on live TV.

I don't need to go into the actual show, since it was taped live for TV. Nothing was edited out and there weren't any re-takes. Oprah only invited one audience question, and that was at the very end (and not from a pre-seeded plant like myself).

As I mentioned before, I got to ask Al Gore my question during the after show, and I should be able to find out on Saturday whether I made it to TV.

The aftershow was over around 10:40am, and we were able to claim our coats fairly quickly. Everyone in the audience received a free copy of the DVD and I was at work by 11am.