Leverage your celebrity wattage, A-list connections and interview track record. Produce a gorgeously staged sit-down interview in a comfortable setting. And roll out tempting teasers for a week ahead of time.
That’s what Oprah Winfrey is doing for her Sunday night spectacular “CBS Presents Oprah with Meghan and Harry.”
The result is, in the words of The New York Times, “one of the most anticipated, and most heavily-spun, television interviews in recent memory.”
It is also a valuable piece of content – created by Winfrey’s production company and sold by ViacomCBS to television networks around the world.
Winfrey’s exclusive interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was announced on February 15, but it has been in the works for years.
In a new preview clip released on Friday, Winfrey said she spoke with Meghan about a potential sit-down in February or March 2018.
“I remember that conversation very well,” Meghan said. “I wasn’t even allowed to have that conversation with you personally, right.” She indicated that Buckingham Palace communications staff was present.
“I couldn’t have said yes to you then,” she said. “That wasn’t my choice to make. So, as an adult who lived a really independent life – to then go into this construct that is… different than I think what people imagine it to be – it’s really liberating to be able to have the right and the privilege in some ways to be able to say yes. I mean… I’m ready to talk.”
Royal watchers expect major revelations about the Sussexes’ decision to step away from the work of the Royal Family and move to the US, to a home right near Winfrey’s in Montecito, California.
Winfrey helped the couple get settled in the community and previously partnered with Harry on a mental health documentary for Apple TV+.
Her status as one of the most renowned interviewers in the world will be further cemented by the broadcast.
Winfrey “has the Midas touch,” said Victoria Arbiter, a CNN royal commentator. She “also helps people feel safe and protected… so I think Meghan and Harry will have felt safe talking with her.”
The interview tapings – first Meghan alone, then the couple – were conducted in what appears to be a lush California backyard.
Winfrey, not a television news division or other intermediary, maintained control all along. Her production company, Harpo, crafted the interview plan and brought it to CBS, where she has longstanding business ties.
Harpo and CBS announced the US premiere, and then the global distribution arm of ViacomCBS Global lined up other international broadcasters from Australia to Switzerland.
Most importantly, the interview will be shown in the United Kingdom on ITV one day after the US, on Monday night.
None of the parties involved have commented on the financial stakes, but CBS and other broadcasters should be able to command premium pricing for ads during the special.
Guy Martin, writing for Forbes, said “let’s call it what it is, in America at least: It’s a big old-fashioned broadcast network bet that lots of good American product and good American viewers would like to get next to that crackling bonfire of content, and in an industrial way, given the advent of all-powerful streaming, it’s an oddly welcome revivification of the old broadcast platform.”
In a nod to corporate synergy as well as Winfrey’s friendship with “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, the morning show rolled out the first full clip from the special on Friday morning.
Arbiter pointed out that the interview is an important moment for Meghan and Harry as they seek to capitalize on their celebrity status.
Many Americans are familiar with the couple “but there are an equal number who don’t know what they are about. Oprah is a great person to introduce them to the US,” she said.
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.