Oprah Winfrey’s couch was once the go-to place for headline-makers in their time of public scrutiny. She was fair — but tough. Blunt but not crass. And, most importantly, she could get people to tune in.
As Jerry Sandusky reportedly contemplates sitting down with the one-time Queen of Daytime Talk TV, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want this to happen — mostly because it’d be a powerfully bad move on his part. (Trainwrecks=must-watch?) There’s little doubt in my mind that Sandusky’s appearance would join the ranks of the most brutal Oprah interviews ever. (Yes, I’m looking at you, James Frey.)
Of course, not all so-called controversial interviews resulted in bloodshed. In fact, you might be able to say that a few people in the hot seat have come out on top after appearing on Oprah, a rare but important side effect of answering the harder questions with candidness.
So who benefitted from being on Oprah and who would have been better off pulling a Lohan? Here are my thoughts:
James Frey – After selecting Frey’s book, A Million Little Pieces, for her book club, Oprah was not so pleased after learning Frey had lied about portions of his memoir. That lead to the smackdown heard ’round the book world and the public shaming of an author. (She later apologized to him for her harshness.) While it was good that he owned up to his wrongdoings, Frey would have been better off saying no to O.
Michael Jackson – Though the interview took place before any allegations of sexual abuse were made, Oprah got a chance to talk with the fiercely private Jackson about his dating life, plastic surgery and the oh-so-touchy subject of his battle with the skin-altering disease vitiligo. The live chat was a ratings win, watched by 90 million viewers around the world, and gave Jackson a chance to address his fans for the first time in 14 years. Win for both parties.
Whitney Houston – Prior to releasing her album, I Look to You, Houston sat down with Oprah and aired her dirty laundry. And by that time, it was filthy. EW critic Ken Tucker said of the interview, “It’s doubtful that Whitney Houston would have opened up as freely as she did on Monday’s season premiere of Oprah were she not being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. There was an atmosphere of understanding and trust that allowed Houston to speak with little self-consciousness about her drug use, her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown, and the squandering of her musical gifts.” The album corresponding with the interview certainly wasn’t Houston’s biggest hit, but the interview certainly was a hit for Oprah, Houston and viewers.
Nadya Suleman (“Octomom”) – Sorry. This was just uncomfortable. Even more uncomfortable than that alien belly picture Octomom shared with all of us, and that’s saying a lot. We all lost a piece of our soul watching this trainwreck, but Suleman was the biggest loser of all.
Michael Vick – Never happened. Smart move.
So, readers, this trip down Oprah Lane (which is paved with gold and lit with diamonds) has left me conflicted. Do I want to see Jerry Sandusky face the icy, heavily eye-lashed gaze of Oprah? Or am I really not interested in what he has to say at this point? What’s your take?