It’s been almost two months since The Oprah Winfrey Show wrapped up its 25-year run. But over on the daytime queen’s new cable net OWN, the addictive Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes is still chugging along.
This Sunday at 8/7c, the series will give viewers a peek at what it really took to pull off May’s star-studded, farewell extravaganza — and all while keeping it a secret from Oprah!
Below, executive producer Sheri Salata previews the blood, sweat and tears that went into the massive undertaking, and reveals what Oprah really thought of her surprise swan song.
TVLINE | This week’s Season 25 is behind the scenes of the United Center special, which you tried to keep under wraps from Oprah. Were there any close calls where she almost found out?
The night before, we were going to do a day of rehearsals. Oprah was going to go with friends to a restaurant near her house. The maître d’, who’s a good friend of Harpo, called us right away and let us know that Tom Hanks had booked a table at that restaurant and [asked] if he should cancel Tom! We’re like, “Yes! Cancel Tom because she’ll see right through that!” “What’s Tom doing in Chicago? He’s here for the big special taping.” [There was] another close call when Beyonce’s dancers were rehearsing in the studio. We thought that Oprah was going to stay at home all day, but she decided to put on her sweats and come into the office. They just missed each other by a matter of minutes. The other moment was the day we were rehearsing, [Oprah] called Maya [Angelou] and asked her where she was. Dr. Angelou said, “Somewhere. But I’ll be home tomorrow.” I know how she operates. She’s looking for a tone, a look, the slightest bit of information where she can put things together. There were definitely some close calls.
TVLINE | But she was going in dark? She didn’t actually find anything out?
No. She didn’t.
TVLINE | In the last episode, we got a little sneak peek at what went into putting together that show. Did you actually get to rehearse in the United Center at all? It seemed like it was a very close call between when the set would be done and when the rehearsal would start.
Monday night… The Bulls played their game. We got to the United Center at 12, 1, in the morning, officially. I got there the next morning at 10 a.m. and the massive parts of the stage had gone in, but the lighting wasn’t up. The screens weren’t up. There was still tons to do. We started rehearsing Beyonce at 8 Monday night. We had to give the stage back to the builders by midnight because they had to finish doing the set. Tuesday, we started at 8 a.m., and we rehearsed literally until 5. I literally wiped the sweat off my brow and ran to the camera truck and started the show. So it was a little crazy.
TVLINE | Did you ever have a moment where you were like, “We’re not going to be able to pull this off.”
The question is, how many moments did I have like that? … We had put ourselves in this situation that if we did have any serious trouble, technically, that it would have been more than a real problem. Thirteen thousand people would have been standing outside the United Center for God knows how long. So, yeah, there were times I was like, “Whoa, we are out on the limb, and I can hear a snapping sound.” … We had people from accounting rehearsing the audience members to hold up their books. People from every department in the company were helping us on site manage the bigness of the show. Instead of going out and hiring freelance production assistants, our people jumped in.
TVLINE | On screen, the United Center episodes looked incredibly polished. Were there any snafus we didn’t see?
I will honestly tell you this – and I don’t know if I’ve ever had this experience – but miraculously, there was not one problem. Not one thing that went wrong. Not one thing. I have never had that experience where literally nothing goes wrong [when] we barely rehearsed it enough to know what we were doing. … We had not one chance to rehearse everything together. We dribble-drabbled rehearsals all day long.
TVLINE | What was going on in your production truck during the show? Were there tears streaming everywhere?
I think during the Morehouse men’s segment…I am like sobbing, boo-hooing like crazy. I was very touched by that, and I could see the close-up shots of Oprah and that really got me. But I think a little piece of it too, for me, was we were almost done and everything had gone so perfectly. I was like out of my mind with happiness. We were so close and I was trying not to jinx it by being like, “Oh, my God, this is going to be a perfect, perfect production!” But I could definitely see my own anxiety and nervousness and worry coming out through my tears.
TVLINE | There were quite a few celebrity guests. How did you keep them a secret from Oprah? Was their a special holding area for them?
Everybody had green rooms at the United Center. We did not bring Oprah in until five minutes before she walked out on the stage. She literally pulled up, got taken, held backstage for maybe four minutes and out she went. We also had a big lounge where all the celebs hung out before they went on and after they were out so they could watch the rest of the show.
TVLINE | One of the concerns that Oprah expressed a lot on Season 25 was that this surprise show would be self-congratulatory. What was her reaction or feedback after the show?
A home run. She was very pleased. She definitely could feel our intention and execution that it was a tribute to the show and the show’s impact on the culture. Because the show is more than just about her. It’s about the guests who came on and told their stories. It’s about the viewers who watched and participated and sent in feedback and went out visiting because they saw someone on the show. She was very pleased.
TVLINE | Did she have a favorite moment that she shared with you?
She’s going to say the Morehouse men moment. She did not see that coming. The truth is, for somebody who’s so generous and does so much, she doesn’t add it up. She doesn’t have a little notebook of her good deeds. So I think it blew her away to see it. That and the energy of what that generosity meant. That it’s about real people. You know that intellectually, and I think feeling that was really a high point in her life.