What's in a Name? If It's 'Oprah,' It's Golden

Historic show’s sought-after alums fan out across syndication

When talented folks in any
industry become available, chances
are good they are not on the market
for long. (See under “Manning, Peyton.”)
And in the wake of Oprah Winfrey’s departure,
the show’s former producers have
spread throughout syndication, landing
at shows such as Katie, Jeff Probst,
Ellen and Anderson.

“The standard was so high where we
worked, and we were always setting
the bar higher and higher as the seasons
progressed,” says Amy Coleman,
executive producer of CBS Television
Distribution’s Jeff Probst. Coleman
started at CTD’s Oprah as an associate
producer in 1994 and worked her
way up to supervising producer. “I
think [Oprah] was something unique
and special, not only for us but for
all of daytime. We really honed our
abilities to find great stories and tell
them in a special way. I think having
that skill set appeals to everyone in television.”

Free agents with an Oprah asterisk on their
résumés tend to not go unnoticed. Disney-
ABC’s Katie, starring former CBS Evening News
and Today show anchor Katie Couric, just hired
Oprah’s Joe Terry to direct the show, as well as
Eileen King as a supervising producer. Both
Terry and King (a former associate producer on
Oprah) will join executive producer Jeff Zucker
and coexecutive producer Kathy Samuels on
next season’s highly touted afternoon talker.

Several Oprah alums ended up at Warner
Bros., with three working at Ellen and one at
Warner Bros.’ rookie strip, Anderson. Bridgette
Theriault, a coproducer on Oprah, now produces
for Ellen; former Oprah staffer Hillary Robe also
works on the show. Both join Melissa Gieger
Schrift, who departed Oprah when
Ellen launched in September 2003.

Also in the Warner Bros.’ camp, former
Oprah staffer Rachel Hanfling now produces
for Anderson. Lisa Morin, a top Oprah producer,
was coexecutive producer on Anderson, but
she has since departed. Terence Noonan, who
had experience on Oprah spinoff Dr. Oz, is now
Anderson’s executive producer.

Twentieth Television hired Anton Goss of
Consortium Studios, who designed Oprah’s
flashy but comfortable set, to do the honors
for the pilot of the upcoming Ricki Lake. And
the show will use that set, with only minor
updates, for its September premiere, says a
Ricki representative.

Coleman acknowledges that Oprah had
more staff than most shows could ever hope
for. But she also says that even with nearly
inexhaustible resources, producing Oprah presented
myriad challenges.

“Sometimes it’s just as hard to manage more
people as it is to manage a few people really
well,” says Coleman. “That’s something we’ve
been talking about at The Jeff Probst Show—how
we want to do things differently
and in our own way. Really good
television can be done much differently,
with out-of-the-box
thinking and a fresh take. I don’t
think how well a story is lit or
how much money you spent on
your set will drive the content.

“What’s been really exciting
about this year of transition for
me,” continues Coleman, who is
moving with her family from Chicago to Los
Angeles to produce Probst, “is that I’m going
to work for someone for the exact same reasons
that I went to work for Oprah. They are
both really great storytellers who are looking
for provocative, engaging and uplifting stories
for television.”

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