For those of us who thought that Santa Claus only appeared in a big red suit sporting a wild long beard, think again. Oprah Winfrey has once again shocked the general populous by giving her audience lavish presents in her big giveaway show of the year, “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” She has done this for may years, and for those of you who don’t know, this is the one show a year where Oprah releases her list of her favorite things that she has found over the course of the year, and then gives each member of the coveted audience every one of those items/services/etc…! This year Oprah list included: a Nikon camera, Jay-Z’s new book “Decoded”, a five-year subscription to Netflix, Lululemon athletic pants, Baker’s Edge baking pans, Ghirardelli brownie mix, a limited edition Philip Stein watch with 58 handset diamonds which retails for $2,475 (named the “Oprah” watch by the creator), a Breville panini press, the new Black-Eyed Peas CD, “A Course in Weight Loss” by Marianne Williamson, Beecher’s World’s Best Mac & Cheese, A Feu De Bois Candle set, and the grand finale, and a seven-day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, which includes a 3D-movie theater at sea, ice skating rink and two-story dance floor, which includes round-trip flights to get the audience TO the boat. (Source: Oprah’s Favorite Things: 2010 .)
WHEW! I got dizzy just reading that list! I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to actually be in that audience and just get heaped with these gifts, instead of just the usual tears and emotional baggage that be usually get watching the big O. While it may seem odd to but Mac & Cheese on the same scale as a diamond watch, somehow, for Oprah, it works! Oprah gets just as giddy as we do with nice things, and it is quite wonderful that she likes to share them with her audience, and doesn’t hoard them for herself like the selfish kind on a playground. These are some top-notch gifts, and I think her audience was right screaming their lungs out as Oprah announced these presents.
“Her most ballyhooed giveaway occurred on September 13, 2004. “That was the best year I’ve ever experienced in television with the exception of the first year,” she told the writer P. J. Bednarski. She opened the season by giving away 276 brand-new Pontiac G6s, worth more than $28,000 apiece, for a collective total of $7.8 million.
“It was not a stunt and I resent the word stunt,” she said, explaining that when a General Motors executive offered to give the cars as part of her “Favorite Things” show, she said no. “I can’t do that because that’s not my favorite car and I’m not going to say it is.” Then she remembered Jane Pauley’s new talk show was launching in September as a strong alternative to her own. Oprah’s producers pushed, saying she could not turn down the opportunity to give away cars, so they set about finding worthy souls who needed wheels. Jane Pauley’s launch show was buried under Oprah’s free cars show, which became one of the most talked-about giveaways in television history.
“My heart was palpitating [that day],” she recalled. “We had real emergency
medical personnel standing by because sometimes people really do pass out in the
Revving herself and her audience into a paroxysm of ecstasy, she passed out small boxes to everyone and said that one box contained the keys to a free car. The audience opened their boxes and each found a set of keys. Oprah started yelling and jumping and
pumping her arms: “You win a car! You win a car! Everybody gets the car. Everybody gets the car! Everybody gets the car!” She led her delirious audience out to the Harpo parking lot, where 276 gleaming blue Pontiac G6s had been wrapped in huge red bows. “This car is so cool,” said Oprah. “It has one of the most powerful engines on the road.”
Teachers and ministers and nurses and caregivers who had been walking to work for years or taking buses and having to transfer three times were thrilled by their life changing gifts. However, almost immediately they learned they would have to pay taxes (approximately $7,000) on the cars, because they were considered prizes rather than gifts. Many turned to Oprah for help, and her publicist said they had three options: They could keep the car and pay the tax, sell the car and pay the tax with the profit, or forfeit the car. There was no other option from Oprah, and Pontiac already had donated the cars and paid the sales tax and licensing fees.
“Was this really a do-good event Winfrey pulled off,” asked Lewis Lazare in the
Chicago Sun-Times, “or a cold-blooded publicity stunt carefully designed to make the talk show diva really look good at the expense of Pontiac, which gladly provided cars in exchange for some of Winfrey’s promotional plugging?” He added: “It’s increasingly apparent she’s…become an unabashed shill for a slew of marketing-savvy companies salivating at the prospect of getting her to back their products in the hope big sales will
Oprah was incensed. “For all the people who say, ‘Oh, you didn’t personally pay
for the cars yourself,’ which I heard, I say, ‘Well, I could have, and what difference does
it make, if they get the cars? And why should I have paid for them if Pontiac was willing
to do so?’ “
-(Reprinted from Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley, Crown Publishers, 1st Edition)
What does this situation teach us? Though people in the audience were enraptured by the present, eventually, they were unable to pay for it, and had to give it back! This leads back to that situation of the kids on the playground. Oprah was playing the part of the smart mischievous who doesn’t out-and-out keep her toys from her friends, but cleverly makes a fiendish scheme to make sure those toys come back to her! Do I believe that Oprah maliciously made sure that the audience would have to give the cars back? NO! But for Oprah, as we have seen, she is not the kind of person who sweats the small stuff. She only cares about the big gesture: the “FREEEEEEEEEEE CAAAAAAAAAAAR!” moment. But what happens after that is really not her concern! Oprah is a very calculating woman. She knows her presents will yield dividends not only for those who receive them in the audience, but also the manufacturers of the gifts, who have really donated them to Oprah in return for free publicity. She knows that she will get good ratings for that show, because her audience wants to see what she’s giving out this year! So all around, people are happy! But as seen by this except from Kitty Kelley’s groundbreaking book, we see that “Oprah’s Favorite Things” don’t always turn out a positive result. Sometimes you can’t have your Ghirardelli brownies and eat them too!
(To read my blog about Oprah’s estranged “Aunt” Katherine, follow this link: Blog: Oprah’s “Aunt” Katharine.)
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