I called the control room and had them pull Paula from the studio to get on the phone with Oprah. I ran to the other end of CBS – the length of an entire Westside city block - to intercept Paula as she hung up the phone. Apparently Oprah told her that she was displeased with how unprofessional we'd handled this situation after her publicist had turned down our request, but that the interview had been so good that she was going to let us use it. This was Fat, Forgiving, Pleasing-Others, Early 90s Oprah, don't forget. Amazingly, I had also allowed Paula to be an innocent participant in the entire affair as well. I withheld my entire scheme, which she made me explain in detail once off the phone. It had worked, but put Paula in a bad spot and was poorly executed. I figured that I had seen the last of Oprah. We aired a two-part interview as part of the (stupid) series, which made little impact on our ratings.
That was only strike
1. A couple years later, I flew to Chicago for the day with Zahn to interview Oprah at Harpo Productions. That morning, I'd gotten my (very early 90s) ponytail cut off on the air by famous hairdresser-to-the-stars Christophe. I don't know what I was most excited about: my on-air makeover (!), my new look (!), Paula bumping me up to first class with her (!), the flight attendants having seen my makeover on TV and loving it (!), or showing off my new look to Oprah under the roof of Harpo (!!!). I was getting another chance with my (now thin!) Queen.
We set up in Oprah's (beautiful) study, got a tour, and in she came. She was all business. Brisk. Professional. Maybe cold, but maybe not. Paula asked her how it could be possible that she was "every woman" - as her theme song suggested - while also a multi-millionaire and shedding weight, perhaps growing further from her viewers. She turned it on, telling us a story about an hour she'd just taped about anorexia and the women who'd touched her. She was crying! She became "Oprah." She went from cold to hot to hotter. It was a good interview.
When it was over, I asked to take a photo with my idol. Time stopped. The publicist rebuked me before Oprah could say no herself. It was so uncomfortable. I was crushed. I felt like I'd offended everyone and crossed a line. I was not there as a fan, I was there to do an interview. We'd done the interview, the cameras were off, and now it was time to take my new hairdo and unprofessional self back to New York.
That was strike 2.
A few years later, ever resilient me was back in Chicago working on a story and set up a quick "hello" meeting with Oprah's publicist, who also allowed me to sit in on a taping of the "Oprah" show. I was so happy to be sitting in the audience, as a fan. During a commercial break I got up the nerve to say hello to the Queen. Again, I can't undersell my level of respect, devotion and esteem for this woman.
"Hi Oprah, I'm Paula Zahn's producer," I said sounding chipper.