Key ‘Oprah’ staffers bring their expertise to new daytime shows
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org September 9, 2012 9:59PM
This Aug. 8, 2012 photo released by Disney-ABC Domestic Television shows host Katie Couric sitting with audience members during a taping of her new talk show "Katie." Couric's new show will debut on Monday, Sept. 10. (AP Photo/Disney-ABC Domestic TV, Ida Mae Astute)
3 to 4 p.m. weekdays on WLS-Channel 7
Former “Today” host and “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric — Oprah’s heir apparent — brings a newsier approach to daytime than her competitors with her new show, taped in front of a live studio audience in New York City and airing shortly thereafter. But she’ll have plenty of lighter segments, too, as well as celebrities.
In her words: “The marketing department of ABC came up with ‘smart with heart,’ which I actually thought was a great description of what I would ideally like the show to be,” said Couric, 55. The daytime genre allows her “to not have to play beat-the-clock, to roll up my sleeves and let a conversation breathe and have intelligence and humanity. I’m going to be able to flex all my muscles.”
Monday: A lot of star power. Jessica Simpson gives her first TV interview since having her baby and Sheryl Crow drops by, along with “familiar TV faces and plenty of surprises.”
Coming up this week: “Project Runway” host Heidi Klum on her split with Seal; Jennifer Lopez on life after “American Idol” and co-parenting with her ex; a grad student who gained national attention after losing parts of her limbs to flesh-eating bacteria, and women whose personal stories inspired Couric.
‘The Ricki Lake Show’
3 to 4 p.m. weekdays on WFLD-Channel 32 (reruns the following day at 11 a.m. on WPWR-Channel 50)
After hanging it up nearly a decade ago, the mother of two makes her talk-show comeback with a program about lifestyle topics aimed at “the modern-day woman.”
In her words: “I don’t feel like I’m being served in daytime right now,” said Lake, 43. “Doing a show now that’s a little less fluff, a little more substance — that’s something I would be looking for as a viewer. It’s not like the ‘Ellen’ show. We’ll be having celebrities on when it … makes sense. I have high hopes that this really can be a smart show that people can learn from each other, have a great time and walk away with some takeaway.”
Monday: Weight loss and body image. Lake shares her own roller-coaster experience and talks to women demanding more natural body images in the media as well as a woman who went from a size 28 to a 4 but still sees her old self in the mirror.
Coming up this week: Hormones and hot flashes; how to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media; female veterans, and virginity, including an interview with a 41-year-old who’s never had sex.
‘The Jeff Probst Show’
2 to 3 p.m. weekdays on WBBM-Channel 2
“Saying yes to adventure” is the theme that runs through this longtime “Survivor” host’s new talker, the most male-friendly show of the bunch. Signature segments include “Guys on the Couch,” where Probst invites men onstage to answer relationship questions from women, and “Ambush Adventure,” where audience members do something outside of their comfort zones.
In his words: “If you’re looking for Jerry or Maury, this is not your show,” said Probst, 50. “I’m not interested in people fighting onstage. I’m not interested in paternity tests. My weakness as an interviewer will be a strength in daytime. When you’re asking people to share their life on the kind of level that I’m going to, you have to be willing to share yours. I wouldn’t ask a guest to answer a question that I’m not prepared to answer myself.”
Monday: Living life to the fullest despite obstacles. Guests include a young woman pursuing her dreams after being told she doesn’t have long to live and a couple who met and married in their 90s.
Coming up this week: People who switched gears in life to go after what they want; sex for elderly people, and documentarian Morgan Spurlock talking with Probst about manscaping and other testosterone-related topics.
Updated: October 11, 2012 6:06AM
Oprah vacated the daytime talk-show throne last year, but many of the people who helped put her there have landed on the payroll of a new crop of shows vying to fill the chatfest vacuum.
Key staff who honed their craft under the Queen of Talk’s watchful eye, building “The Oprah Winfrey Show” into a nonpareil ratings juggernaut, work at each of the three nationally syndicated talkers debuting Monday.
Oprah’s longtime director, Joe Terry, helms Katie Couric’s new venture, where supervising producer Eileen King is an “Oprah” alum.
No fewer than eight former Oprah employees have relocated from Chicago to L.A. to take jobs on “Survivor” host Jeff Probst’s eponymous show.
At least one associate producer from Harpo Studios now works for Ricki Lake, who’s returning to the talk-show arena with a program Lake describes as “old Oprah,” before the book club and billionaire status.
Lake tapped Oprah’s set designer, Anton Goss, to create the Culver City, Calif., digs for her new show.
“The similarities would be that they both have a lot of curved shapes,” said Goss, referring to the sets, not the hosts. “That’s more embracing, more feminine. It feels warmer.”
While Ricki’s set — complete with a faux fireplace — is more homey than Oprah’s, the studios have one key thing in common.
“Oprah and Ricki are similar in the sense that they’re really good with the audience and being approachable,” Goss said. “With both shows we did a camera well where … you put the cameras back about five rows to get the audience right up to the stage.”
Goss also designed the swanky new set for “Steve Harvey.” Filmed in Chicago and launched last week, the former stand-up comic’s daytime talk show employs several ex-O’s as well.
The biggest Oprah migration landed at “The Jeff Probst Show,” where executive producer Amy Coleman comes with 16 years of experience at “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
During her tenure, Coleman oversaw some of the series’ most memorable moments, including Oprah’s trip to Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel and an episode featuring 200 adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Coleman also quarterbacked much lighter fare, such as the final season’s surprise flash mob dance on Michigan Avenue.
Coleman interviewed for her future boss — whom she says is just as hands-on as her old boss — over Skype while Probst was shooting “Survivor” in Samoa.
“I fell in love with Amy, sight unseen,” Probst said at a television critics gathering this summer in Beverly Hills. “From that moment, I said to CBS, ‘I don’t want to make your negotiation tough, but I’m going to be honest. There is no second choice. We have to get Amy Coleman to do the show.’ ”
They hired Coleman, who in turn hired several former co-workers.
“I think of the Oprah show staff as family,” she said. “By season 25, we had quite an army working at ‘Oprah.’ This is a start-up. While we don’t have as many, we certainly have great people with great backgrounds.”
One of them is Ann Lofgren, who began at Harpo in 2004 as an executive assistant before rising through the ranks of production. When “Oprah” left, Lofgren stayed behind, working on OWN’s “Oprah’s Lifeclass” and the short-lived “Rosie Show.”
“It was the best place I could have ever learned how to do this job,” said Lofgren, now a producer for Probst. Three of the show’s eight producers have “Oprah” pedigrees.
Probst’s audience supervisor, Glencoe native Dana Leavitt, spent several years as an audience coordinator for “Oprah.”
“That’s where I learned how important the audience was,” Leavitt said. “They contribute more than people realize.”
A lot of what Leavitt learned about audiences at “Oprah” helped shape an innovative feature of Probst’s show: the party room.
“It’s designed for our audience, to make them feel welcomed and valued,” Coleman said. “There are a lot more choices in Los Angeles [than Chicago], many more shows. What can we do to set ours apart and make ours the one to come to? That was a huge part of our inspiration for it.”
Coleman describes the party room as a “fun zone.” Audience members can have their hair and make-up touched up before the show, get a quick massage after standing in line and snap their pictures in a photo booth.
“We have a snack bar, beverages,” she said. “We find that when you give people a little something to eat, they’re a lot happier in their chairs. We want people to leave here spreading the word about what a great experience they had.”