Dear Oprah: On the Houston Family Interview...and More.

Dear Oprah:  On the Houston Family Interview...and More.

Dear Oprah,

First and foremost, I would like to say that I believe that you are the only begotten play-sister of Jesus. When my days on this Earth are complete and I am called home to glory, I am convinced that I will see God, Jesus, and you sitting on the left side of the Throne.

You have blessed the world ten times over through your words, your generosity, fantastic trips, and favorite things.  You have been the perpetual “BFF” to those who needed advice but had no  one to talk to; a universal mom to a world that’s always in need of kind words and wisdom.

But between you and me, from one fabulous woman to the next, please don’t ever do what you did last night again.

We live in strange times Oprah, so I understand your conundrum.

People say they want quality television but don’t watch anything but Jersey Shore.  People say they yearn for something more, but are okay settling with something less.

I get it.

I imagined that your retirement would play out very similar to that of my own parents.  After the curtain call on your last show, I imagined you leaving Harpo Studios to board a plane to a place with water aerobics, shuffle board, and margaritas.  I wanted that for you.  We all wanted that for you.  I suspect that even those who didn’t watch your show even wanted that for you.

But you being you, nothing less than the only begotten play-sister of Jesus of Nazareth, you took on what I suspect has been the colossal challenge of your career by deciding to run the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).   I have read that the network has had its fair share of challenges – low ratings, unappealing programming, etc.  As a result, I suspect that is why you’ve found yourself in front of the camera more and more, becoming the “Diddy” of OWN – a one man..or woman showbiz act, where its success or failure lies fully in both your participation and leadership.

But Oprah, since we are BFFs of sorts, I feel like I can tell you this without you getting upset.  Last night, as I watched your interview with Whitney Houston’s family, I thought it was a low point in your otherwise epically amazing career.

Your interviewing technique is still superior to that of anyone else in the field.

Your body language still embodied warmth and compassion.

But there is simply no good way to interview a grieving family.  There is no perfect way to talk to a grieving daughter.

Nor should there be.

In a world where nothing remains sacred, especially for those in the public light, we could only hope in vain that this family would be able to mourn quietly, in private, and in peace.  It would have been wonderful to believe that they were somewhere appreciating the memories of their loved one in ways that they never could while she was alive.

There are some things that the world does not need to see no matter how provocative it may be,  and the grief of a family is one of them.

So Oprah, please don’t ever do that again.

But being the great BFF that I am, I won’t leave you high and dry without any advice.  What I am about to say may be tough to read but be of good cheer!   They are my top five tips on turning the network around...without losing your soul.

1.   Say this to yourself every day when you walk into the office:  “In order to inspire, I must also entertain.”  Educating your audience will make your heart feel full, but entertaining them will keep the network from going under. You know this Oprah.  You made a career doing this.  Owning a network does not change this fact. It only expounds the need to do so.

2.  All of your friends should not get a show or a mini-series on your network.  I suspect that in order for OWN to succeed, you need viewers younger than the age of 50.  If that’s the case, understand that most people in that age group don’t know (or don’t care) about Fergie’s journey since being outcast from the royal family in the 1980s.

3.  Tell Discovery Channel to stop putting reruns of their most depressing network shows on your channel.  Prison Wives will never be appealing.

4. Use your star power (and Godly status) to continue to bring in people who are naturally entertaining without being sleazy.  How about a comedy stand-up show produced by Jaime Fox?   There are plenty of web-based shows that are funny and entertaining made by talented people looking for their break.   The Milk and Honey series (produced by Idris Elba), Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, and are three you might consider.

5. Hire some young, passionate, and mission-driven people to work for you.  Hire as many of them as possible.  Don’t discount the impact that those under 35 can bring to your network.  We got President Obama elected didn’t we?  Within this generation lies a wider-ranging perspective on global issues and a greater propensity for understanding cross cultural issues than those before us.  Use that your advantage.  We will work for cheap if we believe in what we are doing or if it gives us purpose and a voice.  And in case you were wondering, yes, I am available.

So that’s it Oprah.  That’s all I have for you.

And on the far-fetched chance that you read this letter, know that I wish you well and much success on your network. The road ahead may be tougher than you imagined, but we all have faith that you can do it.


Your other BFF - Kay S



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    While OWN does have its share of less than entertaining TV shows, I have been greatly inspired by Oprah's Next Chapter and Master Class. She has taken her journalism to a different level, and focused on the life stories and experiences of inspiring people. I think the Houston family had total control of whether they were interviewed or not. Cissy Houston declined, and Oprah gave her full respect by gracefully quoting her statement. The majority of her questions were designed to get the truth about rumors that have been floating around since Whitney Houston's death. She was entirely respectful, and I think it allowed the viewers to see the humanity, and beauty of who Whitney Houston was. It showed the viewers how much her family loved, and misses her. I think Bobbi Kristina was awesome. Her strength and transparency assured us that she is doing well, considering the circumstances, and she inspired and uplifted me, as the viewer. People trust Oprah. They tell her things that they would tell no one else. I think the grieving family has a great deal of respect for Oprah, because she respected Whitney, and Whitney respected her. This interview had to happen...and why not with Oprah.

  • Charday, thank you so much for your comment. The truth is that I agree with everything that you have said. As I mentioned in my post, I think Oprah is a wonderful person. I also followed her Lifeclass series and enjoy the Master Class shows. As I also mentioned in the post, I agree that her execution of the interview was as good as anyone could have done it. But something about it still bothered me deeply, which is why I wrote the post. Perhaps it speaks more to a greater issue of what makes something news-worthy in our society? I just found myself feeling uncomfortable throughout the interview, as if I was eavesdropping on a private conversation that I should not have been privy to. So if my blog appeared to vilify Oprah, that was not my intention. She is still my imaginary BFF, and I will still be tuning in for Super Soul Sundays. ;-)

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at

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