A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
More than 17 million people watched Oprah Winfrey’s sit-down with Meghan and Harry when it aired on CBS Sunday night. Millions more have streamed the special and watched in other countries. The British papers say Buckingham Palace is in “crisis” as a result of the couple’s account. So what now? What will the palace say and do? And what about Meghan and Harry? Their next statements may come in the form of actions – following the old adage that actions speak louder than words. They are building up their storytelling channels, with Netflix and Spotify, which came up in the Winfrey interview; and they have the Archewell Foundation.
Harry and Meghan’s three areas of focus, according to a spokesperson for the couple, are mental health; racial and gender equity; and the topic of safe online spaces. Anyone who watched the Oprah special can see why all three are so important to the couple…
Tuesday’s front pages
Meghan and Harry’s charges were covered all day long by the British media, leading up to ITV’s telecast of the special at 8pm GMT. Tuesday’s front pages showcase the stark divide between US and UK media when it comes to the Sussexes. The Guardian’s front page says the palace is “in crisis following devastating racism claim.” The Daily Telegraph carries a front-page column calling the interview an “insult to the Queen.” The Daily Express says it is “so sad it has come to this.” And the Daily Mirror calls this the “worst royal crisis in 85 years.”
Media lessons from the Oprah interview
Here’s an incomplete list of the lessons, or for some TV insiders the reminders, that came from the CBS special:
– Don’t give it all away ahead of time. “If anything, all of the hype underestimated just how revealing this interview would be,” Brianna Keilar said to me on CNN. She’s right. The teasers generated a week’s worth of attention ahead of time but didn’t spill any of the tea. Oprah’s team ensured that nothing leaked. As a result, the palace couldn’t prebut the interview and the special contained maximum shock value.
– Let it breathe. The interview “really showed the power of the long-format interview, which is almost totally gone from TV nowadays,” THR’s Alex Weprin commented. “Everything is crunched into tight, fast-paced segments now, to the detriment of all involved.”
– Follow-up questions make all the difference. “Oprah best displayed her interviewing chops by relentlessly circling back to emotional or newsmaking comments like a heat-seeking missile,” WaPo’s Margaret Sullivan wrote. But Winfrey didn’t rush or interrupt. She sometimes waited half an hour before circling back “to clarify, to get the specifics, to nail down the news.” And that, of course, is the luxury of a taped interview.
– Leave something on the cutting room floor. Winfrey’s announcement at the end of the broadcast that additional clips would air on Monday’s “CBS This Morning” was a nice bit of synergy…
– Broadcast TV still has juice, but it’s getting harder to squeeze. Legacy networks still have the ability to convene large numbers of people, but it takes something huge – something like Oprah, Meghan and Harry.
– History has an echo. “It was hard to escape the eerie parallels between Princess Diana’s 1995 Martin Bashir interview and this one,” Brian Lowry wrote. “And give Netflix an assist, since ‘The Crown’ has brought that back to life for millions…”
– Don’t forget about the streamers. On Sunday I encountered lots of complaints from cable-free households who wanted to watch the special but seemed lost. Networks that are constantly promoting their streaming services need a plan and proactive outreach for moments like this. (The special is now streaming for free on CBS.com.)
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
– Michelle Ruiz writes: “Once again, Oprah proves she’s America’s queen…” (Vogue)
– Steven Zeitchik says the special “also validated her larger business strategy.” Here’s why… (WaPo)
– The couple’s loudest critic in the UK may well be Piers Morgan. And he is feeling bullied… (VF)
– Faith Karimi’s follow-up about one memorable detail from H and M’s account: “The role of an unexpected savior is not new to Tyler Perry…” (CNN)
A brand-new clip from the interview
Harpo (Oprah’s production company) still has so much from the interview that hasn’t aired anywhere yet. OprahMag.com shared an “exclusive” clip on Monday evening that showed Meghan talking about the couple’s requests for privacy, in light of her experiences being hounded by photographers who invaded her personal space.
Meghan said they want to be able to share “parts of their lives” just like everyone else: “There’s no one who’s on Instagram or social media that would say, ‘Because I shared this one picture, that entitles you to have my entire camera roll. Go ahead and look through it.’ No one would want that. So it’s about boundaries. And it’s about respect.”
About $20 million in ad revenue for CBS?
The broadcast was a cultural earthquake. “CBS booked an estimated $20 million in ads for its Meghan Markle and Prince Harry interview,” Insider’s Claire Atkinson wrote Monday. “More than 50 ads aired and slots sold from anywhere between $250,000 and $325,000, agencies say…”
George Cheeks’ memo
“Last night the vitality and power of CBS and broadcast television was on display in a big way,” CBS Entertainment Group CEO George Cheeks wrote in a memo to staffers Monday night. He noted that the initial 17.1 million # for the Oprah special “will continue to grow in the days ahead.”
“It was the largest primetime audience for any entertainment special during the current 2020-2021 season and it dominated social media by every measure,” Cheeks wrote. “The new CBS app, where the special is available on demand, is #1 in the Apple App Store. The special is another recent example of major broadcast events on CBS creating a shared cultural moment that ignites social media and sets the agenda for coverage and conversation everywhere.” He also credited “CBS This Morning” with generating “a new wave of coverage and interest this morning…”
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
– ViacomCBS shares are still on a tear, gaining 12% on Monday, an all-time high… (Seeking Alpha)
– Ashley Fetters and Jennifer Hassan write: “The interview represents a new inflection point in the global racial reckoning of the past year…” (WaPo)
– Don Lemon writes: The old ‘brown paper bag test’ – a sliding valuation of skin tone – still exists. We’d like to think we’ve moved beyond all that. Hearing Meghan Markle and Harry talk about the concerns over Archie’s skin tone in last night’s interview, I can’t help but think, have we really moved on?” (Instagram)
– “Meghan and Harry see their complaints against the press as social-justice activism, holding the media to account for its racism and general heartlessness,” Helen Lewis says… (The Atlantic)
– Chris Cillizza’s observation: “Meghan staring down the British Monarchy speaks to a MASSIVE cultural shift over the last decade or so: We no longer trust or fear institutions like we once did…” (CNN)