Inside the Oprah Winfrey media empire
Podcasts of the week: Making Oprah – an insight into the rise of the media tycoon
Oprah Winfrey making that speech at the Golden Globes, January 7th. Photograph: Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP
Episode 1: No Strategy, No Plan, No Formula
Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes has been flashing across timelines from one end of the internet to the other this week, and this podcast is the perfect companion piece to the current climate of Oprah-related inspirational content. This episode is the first in a three-part series hosted by Jenn White, and looks at the origins of Oprah’s media empire. We hear the audio for her first audition tape, listen to interviews with the talk-show hosts who reigned on daytime US television in the 1980s, and hear from the producers responsible for the show that would come to make Oprah arguably the most powerful woman in the US and a household name across the world. This is not only a great piece of media history but a chronicle of womanhood in the 1980s and a close look of what is required to build a daily afternoon television show. It is a story of success to success, but not without vulnerable moments or a keen eye on the racism that Winfrey faced and handled gracefully. White’s opportunity to interview Oprah for this series, and her genuine thrill and excitement, is a real highlight in this episode – as is Winfrey’s contribution to the story. She is exactly as candid and warm as one would imagine – and generous with her storytelling and experience, too. How she feels looking back on some of her more “iconic” episodes is a really interesting feature of this too: Winfrey is not without regret or humility. A truly uplifting listen in an otherwise grim media landscape, I was immediately compelled to listen to the next episode – it has enough contagious goodwill to charge down your headphones and cheer you right up.
Episode 55: What if reality suddenly fell apart?
The shape of this podcast follows from the title – we listen to an anonymous storyteller, in the new-traditional American storytelling cadence, talk a little about her life. She’s charismatic, her life is ordinary enough and the tone has something of listening to a particularly charming stranger at a house party - a tone that is similar to many podcasts of this style. However, with the title of the episode in mind we are aware that something is going to change, and not for the better. This careful timing of the reveal makes even the mundane parts of this podcast tense. Our narrator describes in alarming detail what it was like for her to experience a sudden loss (on New Year’s Eve, of course) of all cognitive reasoning – an inability to read, to tell left from right, to use a telephone. She talks us through her realisation that she couldn’t operate in the world anymore – with a surprising amount of charm and humour, leaving us guessing, almost in the way of a television hospital drama, what it is that caused her reality to come apart so intensely. The narrator’s journey is sure to make you reconsider the relationship with the outside world and how our brain processes it. It is a compelling and complex journey to go on in the short space of 30 minutes: a fine feat of storytelling and a fascinating window into a stranger’s life.