Oprah can't stop chattering at TV press tour

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 11:17 PM


Just days after thousands of red-winged blackbirds dropped dead in Arkansas, more than 200 journalists were simultaneously lobotomized by Oprah Winfrey at television's Winter Press Tour 2011.

Oprah talked and talked and talked and talked. And then, she talked some more. And some more. And some more. Nearly an hour of psycho-babble about what it's like to be Oprah - the vessel from God who uses TV as a vehicle for the betterment of mankind but who does not allow TV to be on in her house.

"I don't know what to write! It was too airy-fairy and there was no news!" one TV critic screeched when it was over.

About halfway through the verbal siege, TV critics began to tweet to the outside world - cries for help from hostages in the ballroom at the Langham hotel in Pasadena:

"Piers Morgan bragging his 45 minute interview with Oprah turned to 2 hours is less impressive as we approach her monologue's 2-hour mark."

"The Giants should hire Oprah as offensive coordinator. With her in charge they could have run out the clock and beaten the Eagles!"

"I will now read you a list of people who have watched OWN since Sunday. Aaron Aaronson . . . ."

"Day 2 of the inspirational Oprah filibuster. Anyone planning to order pizza?"

"Will someone ask Oprah if it's ok for me to go home?"

Oprah, on the other hand, appeared oblivious of the panic that had taken hold in the room and was having a great time. She took a long, long trip down Memory Lane, retelling many stories about herself: coming from "a town in Mississippi that people can't pronounce" and "growing up without a television and begging my grandmother for a television and she said no, 'cause it was the devil's work."

She regaled critics with stories about her time at a TV station in Nashville. That was followed by stories about her time a TV station in Baltimore. And who can forget her time at a TV station in Chicago?

Oh, and now that she has her own network, Oprah Winfrey Network, she's doing a "new kind of television where people respond to the idea of something meaningful and positive in their lives" - not just feeding them "sweetness" but feeding them "Mind Food."

And did you know best friend Gayle King spent New Year's Eve at a party in Vegas instead of with Oprah getting ready to watch the launch of OWN the next morning? We do, having heard all about it: Seems Gayle phoned "after we were on the air and said: 'Oh my God! OWN has commercials!' Not like I didn't think it was going to have commercials! But it has commercials!"

And Oprah was, like: "I was thinking the same thing - I didn't know I loved Febreze so much! I see every commercial and I think, 'Thanks Chevrolet!' "

Oprah also said OWN's launch has taught her that "God can dream a bigger dream for you that you can dream for yourself," and that she tries to "stay in that space."

"As you heard me say to Barbara Walters, my prayer is to 'use me' and I see myself as a messenger for the message that is greater than myself," Oprah said.

"And the message is: You can. You can. You can. And you can be. And you can grow. And it can get better," Oprah continued.

"My goal in my lifetime is to really help people to understand we're all here as human being to evolve. The evolving of consciousness is what I'm all about. But I'm not telling people it's that. Every single one of us in this room has that. . . . I was born to be who the Creator intended. You were born to fulfill the highest expression of that coming. So that is my goal as myself."

In one of the few more cogent moments of her appearance, Oprah said:

"I am very much aware that the energy that the television is transmitting all the time. Until now I never allowed it in my house, unless there was something specific I wanted to see. I don't want all that energy coming into my space.

Occasionally, she mentioned the network. "There are a few shows that even if [viewers] don't respond I'm going to keep them on 'cause I can - 'cause I like them and, in time, it will grow on them," she said.

But wait: There's more!

We also learned that Oprah used to sign autographs for everyone in her audience, two shows a day on taping days, until one taping day when she had to make an appointment with her gynecologist - because it's the one thing she can't get somebody else to do for her, she explained - and she came back from the doctor's appointment with more energy for the second show than she'd ever had. Which taught her that she really did not like signing autographs for hundreds of people at a pop. So she stopped.

One critic finally asked her: When did she fall in love with herself? "I am not in love with myself," Oprah answered, surprising many.

"I can see that in print and I cringe: 'Oprah fell in love with herself at the age of 49.'

"I am not in love with myself at all. I am loving that I understand who I really am. I am not enamored or dazzled by the whole idea of fame. I think it's fun and certainly think it's more fun to have money than not. It's a really cool thing to be able to get what you want and all that. But who I really am is a woman on a purpose. . . . So I feel good that I'm at a time in life where I pay attention to my life experience, because I recognize everything that has happened to me and is happening to you is teaching you more about yourself. . . to bring you to the best of yourself.

"What's where I am - loving the recognition of who I am . . . and I'm still evolving. . . . I'm constantly working to grow myself forward and this is a pretty heady process."

Piers's big 'get'?

Piers Morgan, the pugnacious British tabloid editor turned talent-show judge who's been charged with saving CNN, came to Winter Press Tour 2011 to mouth off, bat TV critics around a bit and announce that his very first "get" as Larry King's replacement is: Oprah Winfrey.

Two years ago, that news would really have wowed the critics, reporters and bloggers who attend the press tour. These days, in which you have to fend off Oprah with a club as she manically plugs her new cable network, not so much.

"So, it's Oprah!" Piers raved after The Big Reveal was made in a video clip, which did not go over quite as hoped.

"She's not only the biggest celebrity in the world. . . . It was an incredible interview!" marveled Piers, who is his biggest fan.

Oprah's so overexposed these days, she's "even meeting with us this afternoon," one unimpressed blogger told Piers before the Oprah Siege began. Yes, there's a lot of self-loathing about The Reporters Who Cover Television. It comes from years of being asked condescendingly by people who cover the film industry how their small-screen brethren can sleep at night knowing they cover TV for a living.

"I didn't know she'd set the bar that low," Piers conceded.


"The idea that you say Oprah's not a great get - that's ridiculous," Piers scoffed.

"I defy you not to enjoy it," Piers said of his interview, though. Already reading their reviews in his head, he added: "You may not admit it in public."


One brave critic noted that America has already been subjected, recently, to a one-hour prime-time sit-down with Oprah, conducted by Barbara Walters.

Piers's is better - just ask him. His executive producer, Jonathan Wald, sensing skepticism, promised that what Oprah tells Piers about her recent interview with Walters is "quite fascinating." Yes, the TV news business is incestuous.

So just how does Piers intend to save CNN from ratings oblivion here in the United States? "CNN has to make more noise," Piers said. "It's up against new beasts in the jungle. To perform in that jungle, you've got to be more aggressive, louder - make more noise. "

"I love being polarizing. It's more fun," he boasted. "The idea of being some saintly figure in modern television must be unbearable. I think television should be provocative."

Based on tweets, about half the room fell in love with him. The other half loathe him and think he's the beginning of the end for CNN.

One TV critic suggested that the whole "polarizing" gag could make it difficult to book guests who'd prefer to play it safe as they plug their new movie, book, political campaign, TV show, whatevs.

"Guests have a choice of a safe, easy five-minute ride [on another interview show] to plug their movie, or they can come on for an hour and joust with an annoying Brit and, if they succeed, be the toast of America," Piers answered smugly, noting that his British interview show has, on more than one occasion, attracted 8 million viewers.

"You just have to make them fabulous, fascinating and fun," he smirked.

Meanwhile, he challenged the press to ask him anything, adding, "I don't give a damn."

"How's your sex life?" one critic asked - unimaginatively, we think.

"Pretty bloody good - hahahaha!" Piers shot back.


"Well, that just about did it," producer Wald said melancholically.

"A lot of people are saying, 'Wish mine was!' " Piers speculated, regarding the room.


"Have you had this self-assurance all your life?" wondered someone in the crowd.

"I know - cocky little devil, aren't I?" Piers simpered.

Gervais's 'gift'

"Where's the science?!" one exasperated TV critic demanded to know of Science Channel general manager Debbie Adler Myers, regarding the network's new show "An Idiot Abroad," in which "The Office" creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant force their former radio-producer pal Karl Pilkington to take a trip around the globe the visit the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal - all Seven Wonders of the World.

Karl's the third voice in Gervais's animated HBO comedy series, "The Ricky Gervais Show," based on Gervais's popular podcasts, in which he and Merchant talk to, and marvel at the quirky comments of, Pilkington. Gervais described Pilkington as their "moron" pal.

"Science is about curiosity, it's not about scientists in lab coats stuck in a laboratory," Myers began to blah, blah, blah, defensively at Winter Press Tour 2011, when pandemonium broke out.

Pilkington, Merchant and Gervais were attending the Q&A session via satellite from some room in London. Pilkington's earpiece, which enabled him to hear questions being asked by TV critics, broke off in his ear; he began to panic. Merchant tried to comfort Pilkington, while Gervais erupted in uncontrollable, contagious laughter. By the time it ended - happily for Pilkington - critics no longer cared in the least whether this was a science show.

"Do you think of yourself as a moron?" one critic asked Pilkington.

"No. It does get on my nerves," he said of the tag given to him by his chums.

"People say it must be great being mates with Ricky, but it isn't. I'll tell you what it's like. When you get a dog it seems like a good idea at the the time, but it's a pain in the [rear] and it's [pooping] around."

Someone suggested all three men should have taken the trip.

"There was absolutely no chance of all three of us going," Gervais said. "It was a practical joke, a social experiment - my gift to the world. I can't get enough of Karl. I think he's the most fascinating thing on the planet. The Missing Link."

"I did hate it, but now that I'm back and it's all over, I think I got a lot out of it," Pilkington said dubiously about the trip.

"That's the science right here," Gervais boasted, pointing to Pilkington. "How does it live for 30 years. We don't know. Let's ask science."

Pilkington was asked to describe the two other men who have dubbed him a moron.

"I always describe Steve as weird. . . . When I first me you, the look of you, it was just a shock - the height," Pilkington told Merchant, who is 6-foot-7. "If I don't see you for a few weeks, it's, 'Look at that!'

"With Ricky, I kind of think of him like an iron lung. You sort of need him, but I wish I didn't."

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