They say you should never meet your idols, but for Oprah fan, TV and radio broadcaster Jenn White, that’s exactly what her job required her to do.
White is the host and co-creator of the captivating Making Oprah podcast, a show which sprouted from Chicago-based radio and podcast production house WBEZ.
The podcast was created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and, despite the talk-show host’s enduring legacy and fame, no one could have predicted just how popular a three-part podcast series tracking the making of Oprah’s show and her ratings rise would be.
Along with gathering an immense amount of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and yarns from long-serving staff of The Oprah Winfrey Show, White also managed to score a sit down chat with the queen of daytime talk shows as well, which led to a slew of revelations about what Oprah both remembers and regrets about her time on the small screen.
For example, on the podcast Oprah tells White that she greatly regrets the now iconic “wagon of fat” episode, which is in fact one of the most-watched episodes in the shows’s history. On the podcast, Oprah said she finds that episode “hard to watch” because “you can see that my ego is on flamboyant display. I’ve had to pay the price for that moment over and over. I literally handed to the world on a fat wagon platter the story of ‘Is She Fat?’ ‘Is She Thin?'”
She also spoke about a particularly controversial episode, one that nearly made her quit. It was aired in 1988 and centred around cheating husbands.
The Oprah staff gathered a wife, husband, and his girlfriend on stage, and then the husband revealed that his girlfriend was pregnant on live on air.
“The look on his wife’s face to this day–to this day–I will never forget,” Oprah told White. “I said that will not happen to me again. I will never be put in a position again where I cause that kind of humiliation and that kind of harm to another human being. And if I have to do it, I will get out of this business.”
While Oprah has not shied away from talking about her career since the show wrapped, it’s rare that she dives into this level of detail about the day-to-day workings of her past. So, how did White manage to get her idol to spill so much about her life directly into the microphone?
“Harpo Studios in Chicago was being torn down, and it was just this iconic media building,” says White, while explaining how the idea for the project first came about while in Australia for OzPod. “And then we realized that it was the 30 year anniversary of the show’s national launch and we started to discuss the success of the show and it’s roll in media. It got us thinking that there was a story there to be told.
“One of the stories that was most surprising to us was why Oprah actually built Harpo Studios. And hearing her talk about this theory of how she had to be smaller, in terms of her success and her personality, when she first started her career. That was why she took the opportunity to build her own studio and her own show. That was not a story I had heard before.