I remember it as if it were yesterday, so long as yesterday was more than two decades ago.
It was 1986 and I was in Dallas for the BPME/BDA (now PROMAX) convention, an annual gathering of promotion and marketing executives, where syndicators promise plenty of co-op dollars, tchatchke’s pile up like snow drifts in Aspen, and station executives kick the tires on the shows they are giving prime local real estate to.
It’s the kind of venue where you could find Bob Cook, then with Columbia Pictures TV I believe, sporting a set of those goofy plastic teeth to make a point about a new series, or Buffalo Bob Smith serving up Twinkies and milk in a hotel conference room to plug reruns of his 1950’s kids series.
I was invited to to one of the endless parade of post-conference session events and bummed a ride with the late Beryl Spector, a smart, funny and down-to-earth woman who was running the convention in Dallas that year (she would die tragically the next year in a hotel fire in Puerto Rico).
The stretch limo pulled up to a toney restaurant where the King brothers–Michael and Roger–were hosting a dinner for reporters and executives so they could meet the host of a new, first-run talk show King World was launching in syndication.
I remember Oprah as pleasant, condfident, and with a smile that that said she was relishing the opportunity to strut her stuff on a national stage. Michael King was in fine form, and I think I remember a pretty good Jack Nicholson impression.
I would like to say that it was obvious Oprah would become the most successful talk show host, and arguably the most successful TV personality (sorry, Martha) in history, but it was really more like dozens of such events I have attended–a lot of talk about fresh approaches, likeability, proven track records, and the willingness to promote the heck out of the show on the local level.
The force of Oprah’s personality was key to the show’s runaway success, obviously, but the force of the King Brothers sales personality, and the leverage of some must-have game shows (Wheel and Jeopardy), helped create the stage on which Oprah would shine.