TV TATTLE

The Crown laid the groundwork for the success of Oprah with Harry and Meghan

  • "From the perspective of What TV Is Now," says Kathryn VanArendonk, "the fascinating thing about Oprah’s interview and The Crown is not in how they come from different corners of the TV world. It’s that the interview is a powerful demonstration of what can happen when those two systems collide with one another, and the way each part of that equation feeds into and reinforces the success of the other. Most streaming platforms, especially smaller ones like Apple TV+ and Peacock, have become silos for their original programming. They are small niches viewed only by subscribers, and original shows like Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot, or Apple’s Servant, have a tough time breaking through into broad cultural relevance. But a show like The Crown, on a platform like Netflix that has managed to make itself feel more like a utility than a luxury, is a demonstration of how broadly familiar and pervasive a streaming platform’s storytelling can be. Oprah brings up The Crown in her conversation because she knows it will be a widely accessible touchpoint for a huge portion of the interview’s audience, and because it’s big enough and popular enough that the narrative it presents is a useful point of comparison....Oprah’s asking about Harry and Meghan: were there hints of jealousy from the royal family when Meghan proved to be so adept at navigating public relations and capturing press attention? But her question implies that everyone understands the version of Charles and Diana laid out in The Crown, where that same dynamic played out behind the scenes while the press continued to cover what still looked like a happy, successful royal tour from the outside. It’s as though The Crown is the necessary and implicitly accepted pre-viewing assignment for the whole conversation — and it seems unlikely that Oprah’s Harry and Meghan interview would’ve been nearly as anticipated outside the UK without an American audience’s familiarity with The Crown. It’s not just that The Crown made American audiences excited about British royalty, either. This is hardly the first time American audiences have been fascinated by the royal family. It’s that The Crown laid the groundwork for the specific angle of the Oprah interview: the British royal family is an antiquated, privileged institution that harms everyone it touches in the name of protecting an abstract idea of what the monarchy should look like. Over its four seasons, the series has laid out a sequence of stories about members of the royal family being hurt (traumatized, silenced, ignored, stifled) and then turning around and inflicting that same harm on other members of the family. With that background in mind, Harry’s language about feeling trapped within 'the institution' doesn’t sound vague, it sounds laser-aimed at the same narratives that play out in The Crown’s fictionalized version of his family history."

    ALSO:

    • Oprah Winfrey is the only broadcaster who could've nailed her bombshell Harry-Meghan interview: "Call it the power of Oprah. Could you imagine any other broadcaster pulling off this kind of interview?" says Kevin Fallon. "There’s a version where Sunday night’s appearance took place in some puppet-filled bit of sketch comedy or in the backseat of a car tricked out for karaoke, with one of the late-night hosts helping out with image rehab through their usual superficial mania. Or they'd dance out to a chair opposite a daytime TV host and gab innocuously about the need for kindness for 10 minutes, failing to bring the necessary focus to the fortified corruption of the 'institution,' as Meghan and Harry kept referring to the royal establishment Sunday night. It’s hard to even imagine one of network TV’s other respected journalists being capable of surfacing the kind of authenticity that people as famous as Meghan and Harry are conditioned, even trained, to shield. The combination of Winfrey’s fame and her immediate intimacy is an unrivaled tool in cases like this. She takes advantage of her status as, essentially, one of the most famous people in the world to ask the questions no other person would be comfortable enough to ask, or at least justified in asking. But because she’s Oprah, with her track record behind her and the certainty that she has your best interest in mind, you have no qualms about answering, no matter how vulnerable the response may make you. Anyone else asking Harry, point blank, if he 'blindsided the Queen' would come off as a jackass, for example. Yet Winfrey made it seem like the most natural question in the world—because, for her, it does feel natural that she should get to ask it. This is her element, the one she has executed flawlessly for decades. In this realm, she is the queen. Just as it had been for so many years when she hosted The Oprah Winfrey Show, it is a thrill to watch her rule."
    • What makes Oprah the best interviewer includes being the master of real-time reaction, actively listening and understanding the nature of silence better than anyone: "When Oprah decided to move behind the camera, via her creation of OWN and numerous other production roles, she took a fixture of the cultural narrative with her. The other great event-interviewers — (Barbara) Walters, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric — had already for the most part fled the stage. Even Jay Leno and David Letterman, who once helped such stars as Hugh Grant, Kanye West and Michael Richards through their rockier moments, were gone. Increasingly, stars, including Harry and Meghan, made their statements, told their versions, offered their apologies, feuds and confessions on social media — but even the best, most heartfelt statement or video lacks of the nuance and humanity of an in-person interview, in part because that kind of packaged messaging doesn’t allow for real-time reactions that can guide the continued conversation. Oprah is the master of real-time reaction that guides the continued conversation. As many pointed out Sunday night, one of Winfrey’s greatest strengths as an interviewer is her ability to actively listen, to be present in the moment rather than doggedly hit predetermined talking points or plow through a list of prewritten questions.....Or, to be more specific, a world-class interview. Winfrey may ask great questions, but she also understands the nature of silence better than anyone, possibly ever. Indeed, the most enthralling aspect to her conversation with Harry and Meghan was the palpable tension surrounding many of the answers and some of the questions. Surely, certain areas of inquiry were anticipated, and some of the responses, particularly Meghan’s early insistence that she knew nothing of the hardships involved in royal life, seemed a bit rehearsed. But many of Winfrey’s subsequent questions, particularly about the couple’s treatment by the royal family, were met with moments of silence that all but vibrated with the careful choice of the words that followed. Moments that highlighted how extraordinary it was for Harry and Meghan even to attempt to speak frankly, never mind how often they achieved that goal."
    • Oprah emphasizing she knows Harry and Meghan personally actually benefitted the interview: "It’s worth remembering that, for their part, the couple also has a cozier relationship with Oprah than most subjects have with the journalist who’s profiling them," says Judy Berman. "The difference—in this case and in the case of everything that was ingenious about Sunday’s special—was in the framing. Whereas the faceless Firm came off as having manipulated the media in unseen and thus unknowable ways, in a depiction that jibes with the portrait of the House of Windsor painted by Netflix’s mega-popular The Crown, its exiles seemed to have nothing to hide. Oprah didn’t just disclose to viewers that she knew Harry and Meghan personally; she opened the interview by reminiscing with the duchess about the experience of attending their wedding. The distinction isn’t between objectivity and bias; it’s between transparency and opacity. In many ways, what we witnessed was Oprah’s understanding of a shift in how credibility is established in the present vs. how it was established three generations ago, when the Queen was a newlywed. The young Elizabeth waited out bad press, trusting that her refusal to enter the fray would ultimately vindicate her as the bigger person. But we are in a moment when skepticism of the media is at an all-time high, the public is savvier than it has ever been about how public figures manufacture their images and top-tier celebrities like Beyoncé prefer to communicate with fans via social-media channels they can control. And Oprah appeared to realize that the value of an open conversation on primetime, broadcast television was in the ability to create the impression (one that, for the record, I see no reason to doubt) that Meghan and Harry weren’t spinning the facts so much as they were clearing the air—air that the Firm would, for reasons implied to be selfish, if not malicious, prefer to leave murky."
    • The special’s first hour in particular was a perfect match of interviewer and subject: "Oprah’s not the ideal interrogator for every kind of guest, but there is no one better at getting the ultrafamous to drop their guard and say things they wouldn’t to anyone else with a TV camera," says Alan Sepinwall. "Oprah is one of them — she literally lives in the same SoCal neighborhood as Meghan and Harry — while at the same time retaining enough of her journalism training to gently but firmly nudge her guests in the direction she needs them to go. Even the moments when Meghan and/or Harry chose not to reveal something proved telling: Given everything Oprah had gotten them to say about various royals, for instance, it wasn’t hard to zero in on Charles and/or William as the most likely perpetrators of the offensive skin-color question. Meghan, meanwhile, is an actor with her own kind of media training. She understands how the PR game is meant to be played, and thus was in a better position than most non-royals would be both to recognize the position the firm kept putting her in, and to articulate it to Oprah and her audience. She’s also an American who did not grow up in awe of the royals, who has been through divorce and other personal strife. She’s not someone conditioned to hold back for the sake of decorum. And her openness no doubt has been a big influence on her husband, who was a bit skimpier with specifics when he joined the conversation, but who nonetheless made clear how wronged he felt he, Meghan, and Archie have been by the crown. (The flip side is that she came off as willfully ignorant when she admitted not looking into Harry’s family more thoroughly in the early stages of dating him, though it’s a fairly minor mistake compared to the things allegedly done to her.)."
    • All journalists can learn from how Oprah conducts an interview using follow-up questions: "With her relentless follow-up questions, compassionate demeanor and focused skill in eliciting bombshell after bombshell, Oprah proved herself the best celebrity interviewer ever," says Margaret Sullivan. "This may not have been much in dispute, after her interviews with Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama, among many others. This, still, was clearly one of the biggest interviews of her life. Fully prepared for it, she delivered...Oprah best displayed her interviewing chops by relentlessly circling back to emotional or newsmaking comments like a heat-seeking missile. Not much was allowed to simply disappear in a flurry of words, as happens far too often in interviews. Oprah did not let the couple get away with general hints or diplomatic niceties. Once the chum was in the water, she always went back to find it. And in so doing, she delivered a master class in using follow-up questions to clarify, to get the specifics, to nail down the news. Yet, unlike many an aggressive interviewer, she didn’t make the classic error of interrupting at the wrong time. She was able to let silence gather. She didn’t jump in to ruin a dramatic moment. It paid off time after time."
    • Oprah's interview made Sunday TV great again: "No matter how you feel about Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, or the royals in general, you have to admit Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special was great TV," says Meghan O'Keefe. "At least, it was the first time all eyes were watching the same show on Sunday night since the final season of Game of Thrones. With just a two-hour interview, Oprah Winfrey pulled off the impossible: she got the whole world tuning into the same show. Not only that, but Winfrey’s interview was a masterclass in empathetic interviewing and television journalism. Oprah with Meghan and Harry proved that appointment television isn’t dead. In fact, we as a society seem to be thirsting for it."
    • White House offered a "both-sides" response to Oprah's interview: Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden supports Markle openly discussing her mental health struggles, but added: "And let me just reiterate that we have a strong and abiding relationship with the British people and a special partnership with the government of the United Kingdom on a range of issues. And that will continue."
    • Oprah's interview validated her larger business strategy: "When Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan aired on CBS on Sunday night, it wasn’t just a victory for those who like sharp inside-the-palace intrigue," says Steven Zeitchik. "It was also a win for a cuttingly modern type of media business. Since the ocean of content began swelling several years ago, top-end creators have cannily surfed the wave. They have signed major deals, sometimes committing fully to one company, such as Netflix. But the shrewdest and most clout-laden among them have made big deals that nonetheless leave them room to work with other platforms. And few have been shrewder at this than Winfrey. In the past several years, the former talk-show impresario has signed an overarching content deal with Apple... But it’s far from the only significant media partnership she has made. Winfrey is producing a musical adaptation of The Color Purple for Warner Media’s Warner Bros. Her production company Harpo is behind a number of popular syndicated shows such as Rachael Ray, aired by a host of station groups. And she sold the Harry and Meghan interview to CBS’s entertainment division, the crown jewel of ViacomCBS, for a reported $7 million. (Harry and Meghan were not paid.) Winfrey has a past relationship with that company, too, via the news division and 60 Minutes, for which she was once a correspondent. Experts who have followed Winfrey say this has been emblematic of a career in which she knows how to gravitate to the right platform for a given piece of content."
    • John Oliver was chillingly accurate when he spoke about Markle in 2018 on Stephen Colbert's Late Show: "I would not blame her if she pulled out of this at the last minute," he said at the time. "I don’t think you need to have just seen the pilot episode of The Crown to get a basic sense of she might be marrying into a family that could cause her some emotional complications."
    • Bethenny Frankel apologizes for slamming Markle's interview before it even aired: Early Sunday, Frankel tweeted "cry me a river" over the interview. After the interview aired, she expressed regret for her earlier tweet: "Emotional distress & racism must feel suffocating & powerless. I’m a polarizing, unfiltered(often to a fault)flawed person w a voice. When I heard of the interview,during a pandemic, it felt like a surprising choice. I’m sorry if it hurt or offended you."
    • Megyn Kelly was among the conservative media stars on Twitter who were siding against Oprah and Meghan
    • Watch Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and James Corden react to Oprah's interview
    • Here are who fared the absolute worst from Oprah's Harry and Meghan interview, from Prince Charles to Prince William to Paramount+

    TOPICS: Oprah Winfrey, CBS, Netflix, Paramount+, The Crown, Oprah with Meghan And Harry: A Primetime Special, Bethenny Frankel, John Oliver, Meghan Markle, Megyn Kelly, Prince Harry




  • More TV Tattle: