Your RDA of Irony

My Date With Oprah

In 1996, I was summoned to appear on “Oprah.” The show’s topic was to be “people who have been big winners on some of your favorite game shows.” One of Oprah’s researchers had discovered my “Jeopardy!” articles on Nexus, so she telephoned and interrogated me. Discovering my stories, however, is not the same as reading them. She refused to believe that I went on “Jeopardy!” for any reason but pure greed. “How much money did you expect to win?…But, really, how much money did you expect to win?” Since she was originally from Los Angeles, the allure of intellectual challenge was like, you know, way too concept. During that blitzkrieg interview, my interrogator had not bothered to ask if I wanted to be on the show. No one could refuse Oprah. I could not decide if I had been flattered or mugged: perhaps both.

Until then, I never was tempted to watch “Oprah.” My only exposure to the show was ironically through “Jeopardy!” During the closing credits after each game, an announcer would intone some promotion for Oprah. “Do you suspect that your dog or cat is a reincarnated relative? Then be in tomorrow’s audience.” The prospect of an appearance, however, compelled me to watch an episode: I hate surprises, particularly if they are ambushes.

I had a Jewish mother for forty years, yet I never felt so smothered as when I watched Oprah. She cares! She shares! She finishes your sentences! John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie would have envied her monopoly of conversation. I had doubts whether I wanted to be prop. My principles and dignity were bought off, however, when my interrogator telephoned to announce that a chauffeured limousine would be taking me to the studio. I may have the morals of a whore but I charge the rates of a courtesan.

Karen and I were giddy at the sight of the limousine. Unfortunately, that was to be the highlight of the day. In the few days between my interview and the actual taping, the show’s topic had changed. Although the show had summoned and paid the transportation for the all-time winners from “Wheel of Fortune,” “Tic Tac Dough,” and “Jeopardy! as well as a few local winners like me, we were brushed aside for “Your Favorite Game Show Hosts!” Chuck Barris, Peter Marshall, Janis Pennington and Wink Martindale were the focus of the show. As the assistant producer explained to the mere mortals, “We’ve overbooked.”

Being stranded in the studio, I was resigned to watching the show that was being taped. Unfortunately, Oprah kept her audience waiting for more than two hours. When she finally showed up, she announced that she was feeling “puffy.” She certainly does share. In the meantime, her staff had to babysit and preoccupy the audience. The customary stalling tactic is to ask the audience members where they are from and if they have any questions about the show. “Hi, I’m from Bidet, Tennessee and we just love Oprah.” (Yes, they even fought a civil war to keep her.) Then, we were asked if anyone in the audience wished to get on stage and sing. I had to endure an amateur show, listening to Tupperware glee clubs.

Yet, it seemed an appropriate prelude to the show which largely consisted of Wink Martindale, Chuck Barris and Peter Marshall praising Oprah. (I am surprised that she is not regularly mentioned in Nobel Prize speeches.) Janice Pennington was a little less effusive. Either she was not quite bright enough to construct coherent flattery or she was worried that Oprah might hit on her. Wink Martindale, being the least employed, was the most unctious. I believe that his earliest gameshows were reviewed on the Rosetta Stone.

As my severance package, I received a complimentary “Oprah” t-shirt and a chauffeured ride home; but I won’t feign gratitude for the experience. One of the few witty remarks by Karl Marx seems an appropriate summation: “When history repeats itself, it is usually as farce.”

  1. Les says:

    Too bad Oprah missed the opportunity to ask Chuck if he had really been a CIA hit man.

  2. SwanShadow says:

    Sounds like the very definition of “too hip for the room.”

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