When it comes to landing the tell-all interview, no one can compete with Oprah Winfrey. The all-powerful broadcaster has made a habit of stitching up exclusive interviews with people who seem determined not to talk.
Case in point: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
After endless trailers, snippets, and sneak peeks, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex finally sat down with Oprah Winfrey today in CBS’s much-hyped interview.
TOMORROW: @Oprah Winfrey will join us live with never-before-seen clips from her interview with Duchess of Sussex, Meghan & Prince Harry.
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 8, 2021
Officially titled Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A Primetime Special, the two-hour-long sit down promised (and delivered) a series of bombshells that represents a PR nightmare for the royal family.
The promo-machine leading into the airing revolved mostly about Meghan Markle’s deteriorating relationship with the royals. Oprah promised “bombshell revelations” while reminding us “nothing was off-limits,” and she didn’t disappoint.
Winfrey once again proving peerless in her ability to get the most out of a highly staged tell-all interview. Throughout the interview, some admissions instantly triggered headlines around the world.
From Meghan’s admission of suicidal thoughts to Harry’s declaration that Prince Charles has been ducking his phone calls, the entire interview felt like one bombshell after the next.
Arguably most shocking was the dialogue around Harry and Meghan’s son, Archie. Megan told Oprah that when she was first pregnant with son Archie, there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
Cue the classic Oprah Winfrey “what” as the reality of that statement hung in the air.
legendary “what” from Oprah man pic.twitter.com/1tIlSPGIIB
— Logan Murdock (@loganmmurdock) March 8, 2021
Of course, none of this circus is new to Oprah. For decades she has been the reigning queen of the tell-all interview.
This interview should be required viewing for every journalism student or any person who has a passing interest in listening to people and learning with empathy. It’s been said, but Oprah is truly a masterclass.
— Ashley Spencer (@AshleyySpencer) March 8, 2021
Throughout the years, Winfrey has consistently convinced the tightest lipped stars to sit down opposite her and bare their souls. Obviously, a prime time interview with Oprah brings with it the opportunity for an unrivalled platform.
When Harry and Meghan sat down with Oprah, they were practically sitting down with America – their new home – and pitching themselves to a new audience. Here were the relatable royals, newlyweds who had been treated harshly by their family and were looking for redemption.
It’s here that Winfrey’s shrewdness as both a TV executive and an interviewer comes to light. Aware of the power her platform possesses, she has historically chosen subjects in dire need of public rehabilitation.
During her conversation with Prince Harry and Meghan, many watchers commented on Oprah Winfrey's skill, empathy and just all-around mastery of communication as interviewer. https://t.co/7EcpbUZTw1
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 8, 2021
She offers them the chance to talk to the world. They offer her the tell-all interview no one else can get. It’s a tactic that has worked consistently for Winfrey and her team for more than forty years.
Tom Cruise and the couch
No one will ever forget the bizarre moment that Tom Cruise lept onto Oprah’s couch to declare his love for his newfound girlfriend, Katie Holmes. “Something happened to you!” remarked Oprah, as Cruise mounted the sofa, to which he replied, “I’m in love.”
When it comes to A-list access, Cruise is as tough as they come, but of course, when Oprah came knocking, the Mission Impossible star literally jumped for joy.
The most-watched TV interview in history
Oprah’s interview with Michael Jackson remains the most-watched TV interview in history, and the sit down is a masterclass in how to make your subject uncomfortable.
Winfrey refused to go soft on the King of Pop, hitting a trifecta of challenging topics, including changes in his appearance over the years, whether or not he was a virgin and the extent of his plastic surgery. Jackson maintained he’d had less plastic surgery than people believed, adding, “You can count them on two fingers.”
Skewering James Frey
No single TV chat may have done as much to propagate the cult of the tell-all interview as Oprah’s sit down with author James Frey. The take-home lesson from this infamous 2006 interview is that you never (ever) lie to Oprah.
In 2005 Oprah selected James Frey’s moving memoir, A Million Little Pieces, as her Oprah’s Book Club pick. Oprah’s seal of approval sent Frey’s memoir soaring to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, but the increased publicity turned sour when it was revealed that much of Fry’s memoir had been fabricated.
Oprah promptly forced Frey to sit down for an excruciating interview and subsequently raked the author over the coals for manipulating her, and her viewers. Frey’s experience is equivalent to getting called to the principal’s office – only with millions of people watching along at home.
Strong arming Lance Armstrong
Oprah was at her fearless best when she landed the first (and only) interview with drug cheat Lance Armstrong. In 2013 every major TV network and broadcaster was in the hunt for Armstrong’s first televised interview.
Earlier in the year, he had been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles amid doping allegations. As is so often the case, Oprah outmanoeuvred her competitors, landing the exclusive with Armstrong and promising viewers a “no-holds-barred” conversation.
A lady of her word, the tell-all interview was packed full of unmissable moments as Armstrong admitted for the first time that he had used banned performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids, EPO and PED.