From 1986 to 2011, the answer to every world’s issue seemed to be found on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah had such a grip on the audience that people would wonder what the world would be like without her show to bring hope to our homes. Oprah ran with the success her show brought her and became the first woman billionaire – all that thanks to a talk show! However, The Oprah Winfrey Show was so much more than just any show where people came on and talked, it was always about tackling issues present in everyone.
This was the reason why her show became so popular as, unlike Late Night talk shows, Oprah’s show always focused more on delivering content that would appeal to a normal person. She would have guests over, not just celebrities, who would talk about issues that would connect to mass audiences. The result is what we see before us: twenty-five years’ worth of episodes and thousands of lives improved, with millions more influenced.
Oprah had a rich formula that put her show at the top of what there was at the time. This formula has been copied by contemporary talk shows as well, but Oprah must be given credit where it is due. You’ll find these rules laid out below, and these were of the utmost importance as Oprah following these rules ensured her show had a unique taste to it. Whether these guests were regular people or celebrities, these rules applied to everyone all the same.
Here are 20 Rules All Guests Have To Follow On The Oprah Show.
20 Inform if they want to talk about relationships
Everyone was open on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and Oprah was used to this candor of theirs when the interview began. However, Elizabeth Taylor was a celebrity of high regard, and when she announced that she had no intention of talking about her relationships – right before the interview was to happen – Oprah was in a bit of a pickle.
This interview took place in 1988, and Taylor was noticeably subdued in it as Oprah had problems not asking her questions about her seven marriages. Four years later, in 1992, Elizabeth returned and informed the talk show host that she was open to talking about her personal life – she was married to husband number eight by then.
19 Talk about relationships if they’re open to it
Now, when celebrities were open to talking about their relationships, it seemed as if they had no filter. Who can forget the time in 2005 when Tom Cruise absolutely lost it in an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show?
In hindsight, Tom must feel he had an overreaction, especially considering he and Katie Holmes have now been divorced for seven years, but at that time, everyone in Tinseltown was open to letting Oprah question them about their relationships. In fact, it was seen as something of a platform where celebrities openly admitted to their relationships for the first time.
18 Talk about private matters
Back in the early-2000s, technology was certainly taking off and people would find stuff out about celebrities on the internet, even though it was nothing like the easy-access Internet of today. In any case, when private matters came out, celebrities were encouraged to talk about them with Oprah on her show.
One of the most famous examples was when the Backstreet Boys reunited on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where AJ McLean openly talked about his substance problems and estrangement with his bandmates. No stones were left unturned in this interview, and we saw many other similar interviews where celebrities spoke about private matters.
17 Talk about sensitive matters
You might wonder what the difference between a private matter and a sensitive matter is. The easy answer is that private matters can be anything personal related to Oprah’s guests while sensitive matters were topics that would have needed viewer discretion when being discussed.
The biggest and most well-known example was when Michael Jackson was interviewed by Oprah and came clean about his feelings over the accusations against him. His interview with Oprah went a long way in helping him clear his name.
16 Come clean about controversy
While Michael Jackson came out looking good after his interview with Oprah, it was because he wasn’t guilty of what he was accused of. Meanwhile, some guests were, in fact, guilty and they came clean about their controversy on Oprah’s show.
One of the more recent examples was when Lance Armstrong publicly admitted to Oprah (and to the world by extension) that he had taken performance-enhancing medications for his bicycling tournaments. This shook the foundation of the sport as one of their leading men had evidently doped his way through the system. Oprah made sure not to make light of the situation either.
15 Reveal identity if the topic is about an issue
On occasions, Oprah was happy letting her guests remain anonymous if it was about their personal safety or the issue would have resulted in that person being in trouble publicly. However, when the matter came to being open about real issues that needed transparency, these people needed to show themselves.
An example would be the episode where a number of men were shown who admitted on The Oprah Winfrey Show that they had been unfaithful to their wives. These men were separately situated from the stage and spoke to their wives via satellite while these women were on the show’s set.
14 Talk about censored stuff
The issue with Michael Jackson was something that was sensitive; here we have certain issues that are outright censored in some countries during syndication. Chief among these topics were those that involved children being mistreated to the degree where they attempted to take their own lives.
Oprah’s transparency was such that these children were shown on the stage as well; they were shown in their present condition, such as the teenagers who injured themselves and experienced changes in their appearance. The beauty about Oprah was such, though, that these kids’ problems took center stage rather than their deformities.
13 Appear multiple times
When Oprah liked someone, you could bet your bottom dollar that they would be coming back time and time again. We had a lot of celebrities who seemed to have made The Oprah Winfrey Show their home and would be there even when they didn’t have any films to promote or albums to sell.
Celine Dion was the celebrity who had racked up the most appearances on the show with 28! When the show began, she was only 18-years-old and by the time it ended, she was 43-years-old. Celine even promoted the births of her children on the show as well.
12 Gayle King had to show up every few episodes
If you were even a casual watcher of The Oprah Winfrey Show, then you would have become very familiar with Gayle King. Oprah had a very select group of friends who she called her true friends and the very topmost of these people was Gayle King.
Her best friend for life, Oprah would make sure Gayle would show up for even the most minor of appearances. It was like Gayle had a second home on the set for this show, and her appearance count certainly backs it up. In the twenty-five-year life of the show, Gayle showed up as much as 141 times!
11 Tackle game-changing topics
Some topics were so influential by Oprah that they would have their own special segments on the show. These topics would also be sensitive in material, but such was the impact of them that they would need to be spoken about. These topics can only be classified as “game-changing topics.”
One of these topics was the one on gun control, where a grieving mother had lost her 10-year-old son due to the boy’s friend accidentally taking his life from his father’s gun. This issue was raised in such a manner that Oprah’s viewers voted the topic had changed their opinions of gun control.
10 Be prepared to stop filming if Oprah can’t do it
We’re all used to seeing people cry while on Oprah’s show, but Oprah herself has joined in on more than one occasion. She was usually brought to tears when an issue hit close to home, and on these occasions, she was known to even tell the cameras to stop rolling.
A memorable moment where Oprah did just that was when she interviewed Truddi Chase, a woman with 92 different personalities; a result of mistreatment at the hands of her own father. Oprah was met with similar treatment at the hands of a family member and she was overcome with emotion to the point where she asked the cameras to stop filming.
9 Can show up posthumously
For The Oprah Winfrey Show, it wasn't only living guests that could have made an appearance. Her content was such that it could be timeless and the person behind the content could appear posthumously. As Oprah ran for twenty-five years, her stories could spring up decades later and we could find out what became of certain guests.
This was seen with Erin Kramp, a woman on her last days due to cancer who had recorded hundreds of videos for her 6-year-old daughter to see. Erin was first on the show in 1998, and next in 2005, after it had been seven years of her passing.
8 Be prepared to cry
This applies to everyone who has ever been even near the show. It also applies to the audience, crew members, and Oprah herself. Oprah knew how to get the water flowing from your eyes, and the manner of tears falling depended on the content.
On occasion, it would be a happy occasion such as helping people in need. Other times, it could be about sad issues that came to light and the guests just couldn’t hide their despair. Whatever the topic was, you could be certain that it would get emotional and lots of tears would be shed.
7 Be counseled by Dr. Phil
Dr. Phil has been confirmed to run till the end of 2023, meaning it will be on-air for twenty years. This would mean the show can come close to The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Dr. Phil got his first exposure and whose show (Dr. Phil) is spun-off from.
When Oprah’s show was on, Dr. Phil began receiving regular appearances where he would counsel grieving people. Even after Dr. Phil got his own show, he kept showing on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Dr. Phil segments became a favorite for the audience, and he helped more than a few people when he was on to tackle their issues.
6 Come back even after a decade
Like you could be on the show posthumously, you could also appear well over a decade. The best case would be of Jo Ann Compton, who first appeared for a Dr. Phil segment in 1998 and then came back way later in 2011.
Her story was so impactful that it made her decade-long return a triumph. Jo Ann had first been on the show to face the grief of losing her daughter, and Dr. Phil’s help meant that Jo would not take her own life, which she had originally planned to do. Thirteen years later, Jo came back and showed the change she had undergone.
5 Celebrities who can cook need to be prepared to cook
One of the most fun segments with celebrities was when they were required to cook with Oprah. These sequences went a great way in humanizing these larger-than-life figures and gave them a degree of relatability with the audience.
On more than one occasion, the celebrities who had the chops to prepare meals donned the chef’s hat and showed Oprah their talents. These sequences also included Oprah herself getting into the kitchen with the guest and acting as an audience surrogate. The cooking segments had the guest prepare their favorite dishes especially for Oprah and acted like the chef-of-the-week during their sequence.
4 Be yourself and not be fake
Even though Tom Cruise came across like a total buffoon in the show where he openly expressed his love for Katie Holmes, he was still very real in that appearance and it made for a memorable occasion. In the same way, the guests who appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show were required to be themselves.
This could be boring, funny, or anything in between. Guests didn’t need to pretend to be funny if that wasn’t who they were. Oprah would cover the aspect of them feeling comfortable and the guests would only answer the questions they were happy to.
3 Be prepared to show up in large groups
Celebrities can hold the interest of a crowd, but when it comes to regular people, this interest will run thin the longer they are on the show. It’s natural for a layman not to be interested in an average joe, so to keep interest high, Oprah would have a large number of guests at the same time.
These groups would generally all be together and talk about an issue that was widespread. Sometimes, the guests would be a number of athletes who would talk about their group efforts, but the largest number of people Oprah brought on her show were 176 guests from the Olympics!
2 Don’t fool her or she will call you out
We mentioned that people had to be genuine when they were on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and here’s the best example for what could have happened if someone tried to hoodwink her. In 2006, Oprah invited back James Frey, author of the “memoir” A Million Little Pieces, as she had earlier recommended his book on the show when Frey had claimed the book’s events had happened in his life.
Later on, it became apparent that Frey had fabricated much of the novel, so Oprah invited him back as a way of making him come clean and held back no punches when she made it clear how embarrassed he had made her feel.
1 Perform and promote your album
An appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show meant that it could catapult your entire career. Singers would be encouraged to perform and show their talents to the world, at a time when they weren’t well-known.
The best example for this is James Blunt, who wasn't anywhere near as famous as he later became. After appearing on Oprah, where she encouraged him to promote himself, James Blunt became an international superstar, and his records sold quickly in the U.S. as well. He’s still a big star thirteen years after his appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
What was your favorite part of The Oprah Winfrey Show? Let us know in the comments!