September 30, 2022

‘Today’ Is Starting Oprah-like Book Club

The NBC morning program is expected to announce its first club pick, “The Bone Season,” a dystopian debut novel by Samantha Shannon, on Tuesday with an author interview.

Publishers who had been briefed on the show’s plans said they were giddy at the prospect of a potential successor to Oprah’s Book Club, which began in 1996 on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and, in its prime, consistently lifted books to instant best-seller status.

The “Today” selections, chosen every four to five weeks, will be emblazoned with stickers on their covers indicating their inclusion in the club.

“The show has been a home for authors over the years, but many of the books featured on air are typically books that relate to the news in some fashion,” said David Drake, deputy publisher of the Crown Publishing Group. “A book club is going to give an opportunity for books that don’t normally get exposure.”

Sara Mercurio, a spokeswoman for Bloomsbury, the publisher of “The Bone Season,” said that retailers’ orders of the book roughly doubled when they were told that it would be the first selection of the “Today” book club. The book goes on sale on Tuesday.

“One can’t overstate the importance of a nationally televised book club,” especially one with the audience of “Today,” Ms. Mercurio said. “I think it will have a huge impact on this book and on the publishing industry.”

“Today” has settled into the No. 2 spot among the network morning programs, just behind “Good Morning America” on ABC. In July, “Today” had an average 4.4 million daily viewers, “Good Morning America” 5 million.

The book club is the latest example of efforts by “Today” to position itself as a more substantive morning program than the frothier “Good Morning America.” A previous version of a book club on “Today” faded about a decade ago, a spokeswoman said.

The books, chosen by a team of producers and the show’s co-hosts, will include both fiction and nonfiction, newly released titles and classics, said Jaclyn Levin, the senior producer responsible for books and authors on “Today.” Discussion groups and excerpts will be featured online.

The idea to feature “The Bone Season,” a futuristic novel about a 19-year-old clairvoyant, came during conversations between Ms. Levin and Natalie Morales, the news anchor of “Today.”

Ms. Levin, who wields considerable influence in the publishing industry as the gatekeeper to books coverage on “Today,” “Dateline” and “Nightly News With Brian Williams,” said she campaigned for years for the show to resurrect a book club.

“The ‘Today’ show is so recognizable to so many people, and I just think it’s a great opportunity to use that leverage,” she said. “There are so many untold stories that want to be told.”

Publishers have lamented for years that bookings for authors have been more difficult to come by. While some shows, like “The Daily Show” and “CBS Sunday Morning,” can be counted on to promote books, others that did so have disappeared entirely or lost interest in books coverage.

Ms. Morales said that while the show has made a “concerted effort” to devote airtime to authors, it is often difficult to translate a book into good television.

“I think there is some truth to that, that in general it’s been more difficult for the publishing world to get authors on television,” she said, adding that she hoped the new club would have a sizable impact on sales. “The minute a book had that recommendation from Oprah, it would become a best seller. I could certainly hope that would be the same for the ‘Today’ show book club.”

Yet a “Today” book club would lack the passionate endorsement of a single person as beloved as Ms. Winfrey, one of the factors that publishers have cited as a key component to the success of Oprah’s Book Club. (Ms. Winfrey revived her own club in June 2012 as Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, more than a year after the demise of her weekday talk show.)

“There just aren’t television outlets that you can tune into on a regular basis and see authors,” said Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Knopf Doubleday. “Any media outlet that is willing to invest resources in creating a community of authors and their books is a win for our industry.”

Brian Stelter contributed reporting.

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Media Decoder Blog: Armstrong Confession Draws 4.3 Million Viewers to Oprah’s Network

4:45 p.m. | Updated Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey played out in the sports media for three days by the time she was shown on television asking, “Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?” and he was shown saying “yes.”

Maybe that is why the first part of Ms. Winfrey’s exclusive interview did not draw more than 4.3 million viewers to OWN on Thursday night. An average of 3.17 million viewers watched the 90-minute premiere, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings released on Friday.

Another 1.12 million watched a repeat later in the evening, bringing the total unduplicated audience to 4.3 million. That is a great result by OWN’s standards, but not by Ms. Winfrey’s standards. Some of her interviews on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” scored upward of 10 million viewers; her biggest, a prime-time interview with Michael Jackson, drew 62 million viewers to ABC in 1993.

2013 is a very different time, and cable is a different animal than broadcast. Some viewers had a hard time finding OWN on their cable lineups, as evidenced by a spike in online searches about the channel. Still, enough viewers found it to make Mr. Armstrong’s interview the highest-rated telecast in OWN’s two-year history, at least when both of Thursday’s telecasts are counted as one.

Previously, the title of highest-rated OWN telecast belonged to Ms. Winfrey’s interview of Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and her family last March, one month after Houston died. The premiere of that interview attracted 3.5 million viewers to the channel.

Of course, it was not promoted as heavily as Mr. Armstrong’s interview. After sitting down with Mr. Armstrong on Monday, Ms. Winfrey appeared on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday and said, “I think it’s certainly the biggest interview I’ve ever done, in terms of its exposure,” comparing it to the Jackson interview in 1993.

Ms. Winfrey may have been hoping for a higher rating. But OWN and the company that co-owns the channel with Ms. Winfrey, Discovery Communications, cautioned ahead of time that Mr. Armstrong’s confessional might not hit the highs of the old “Oprah Winfrey Show” in syndication. For one thing, the daytime talk show was on popular local television stations that blanketed the country. OWN is only accessible in about four-fifths of the country’s homes. It is further hindered by the fact that, in many places, it’s not available in high-definition.

The initial ratings released on Friday did not include viewers who chose to record the interview and watch it over the weekend. Nor did they include viewers who watched the interview on the Internet, courtesy of an online stream on An OWN spokeswoman said the Web site recorded more than 600,000 streams.

The first half, on Thursday, spurred a huge amount of chatter on social networking Web sites. Bluefin Labs, which tracks that chatter, found that an unofficial Twitter hashtag for the interview, #Doprah (a combination of doping and Oprah), was used more frequently than the one OWN encouraged, #OWNTV.

Notably, about 61 percent of the Twitter comments about the interview were from men, according to Bluefin. OWN skews much more toward women, with only 33 percent of Twitter comments about the channel coming from men. The television audience also skewed toward men.

One of Discovery’s other channels, TLC, showed the interview in many countries, but Nielsen does not provide ratings estimates outside of the United States.

The second part of the Armstrong interview will be shown on OWN on Friday night. Originally, Ms. Winfrey’s producers were going to edit it down to 90 minutes, but after she talked to Mr. Armstrong for two and a half hours on Monday, she conferred with the producers and decided to break it into two parts.

It was “impossible to try to cut 80 minutes out,” Ms. Winfrey said on CBS. “As you all know, a 90-minute interview on TV is really only 65 minutes.” She added, “We felt that to leave over half of this on the cutting room floor after millions of people have been waiting for years for many of these answers would not be the right thing to do.”

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The TV Watch: Television Diva Gives Thanks and Signs Off

And Ms. Winfrey did exactly that in a valedictory monologue that was something between a graduation address and a Sunday homily, praising God and her fans for her success and exhorting viewers to “connect, embrace, liberate, love somebody, just one person and then spread that to two and as many as you can.”

And the lack of ceremony, the absence of celebrities, goody bags or confetti, was less a letdown than a relief after the star-studded, two-part Oprah-fest on Monday and Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago, a Pharaonic tribute that capped what was already a season-long elegy to the star of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Ms. Winfrey called the tribute a “love intervention on steroids.” And come to think of it, there hadn’t been such an over-the-top display of self-celebration since 2005, when Ms. Winfrey released a six-disc DVD collection of her greatest moments, timed to the 20th anniversary of her syndicated show — unless it was her 50th birthday celebration in 2004, which featured 2,000 roses, a 400-pound cake and testimonials from the likes of John Travolta and Nelson Mandela.

Ms. Winfrey’s last show was a lot more like the first nationally syndicated episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1986, when the young woman who overcame an abusive, deprived childhood was only beginning to be known but had already developed a messianic streak. Ms. Winfrey showed a clip of that maiden appearance, in which she explained, “This show always allows people, hopefully, to understand the power they have to change their own lives.”

For her final farewell Ms. Winfrey chose to separate the two contradictory strands — spiritual guide and show-business diva — that are the alchemy of her success. Inconsistencies are the core of her improbable, inimitable career. There is no one like her partly because she is never less than two opposite things at once, Hollywood royalty and star-struck commoner, entertainer and confessor, profit seeker and prophet. Ms. Winfrey was a tycoon and also a tastemaker whose endorsement made the fortunes of housewives, authors, singers and even presidential candidates. She built schools, rescued abused children and hawked beauty treatments, sometimes all in the same show. Ms. Winfrey could move from high literature to lowly undergarments in a heartbeat; she is the woman who introduced “Anna Karenina” and Spanx to the masses.

The best way to measure her stature in the world isn’t by her rank on the Fortune 500 list or the number of accolades from celebrities like Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Maria Shriver. (Ms. Shriver gave audiences an extra frisson by seeming to allude to the deceptions of her estranged husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, while praising Ms. Winfrey. “You have shown love, support, wisdom and most of all,” Ms. Shriver told her, pausing to add, “the truth.”)

Ms. Winfrey’s role isn’t calculable even through the obeisance paid by world leaders or the heartfelt tributes from the ordinary people whom she has inspired over the past 25 years.

It’s easier to look around and try to determine who in popular culture is poised to take her place, and the answer is no one. Her most popular protégés, like Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, may take over some of her share-and-heal duties. Competitors like Ellen DeGeneres and perhaps newcomers like Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric could inherit some of her celebrity interviews. But nobody can copy her unique gift for mixing philanthropy and self-interest. Whether giving a car to each member of a studio audiences or sending scores of needy students to college, Ms. Winfrey made doing good seem like fun; carrying out good deeds didn’t preclude living the good life.

That could be because Ms. Winfrey blends the mystical and the practical better than anyone else in show business. Last week, in an episode devoted to her three most memorable guests, she said that one of them, Mattie J. T. Stepanek, a child poet with muscular dystrophy who later died, persuaded her to continue until 2011 instead of ending after the 20th anniversary. Ms. Winfrey said she considered Mattie a prophet, so that when he told her he had a feeling she should continue her show until the 25th season, she instantly complied. She did not add that it was also the moment her contract with CBS, which owns the syndication rights to her show, expires.

Ms. Winfrey closed with these words: “I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say ‘until we meet again.’ To God be the glory.”

And she has spent her last days — and her entire 25th season — not so much bidding farewell as coaxing viewers to follow her to her next project, the cable network she created in her own image, OWN.

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Talk Show Ends, and Oprah Moves On

She may be the only one.

Television stations are bracing for an afternoon ratings slump without her. Publishers and publicists are contemplating what the next best show for promoting their products will be. And Ms. Winfrey’s viewers are looking for something else to watch — and many of them are still wondering where on their cable systems to find OWN, her five-month-old cable channel, where she will host a new show on a less demanding schedule next year.

“I literally curb my enthusiasm for the end, because I realize that for the other people that are part of this experience” — like the 464 people who produce her show — “the end is a different experience than it is for me,” she said in an interview last week.

The last episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which will be televised on Wednesday, is the biggest such moment in television since Johnny Carson walked away from “The Tonight Show” two decades ago.

Mr. Carson walked away and did not look back; what Ms. Winfrey is doing may be much more risky. She is moving to cable, to OWN, where she wants to build an ultimately bigger business, though the early ratings have been disappointing.

“I’m not going away, I’m just changing,” she said. “I’m just creating another platform for myself, which eventually will be wider and broader than what I have now.”

Skeptics about the OWN venture abound, but Ms. Winfrey has proved skeptics wrong in the past, most notably in the mid-1990s when she turned away from tabloid fare about cheating spouses and scandalous paternity test results and talked, instead, about “living your best life” spiritually and emotionally. Surprising the television business, she held onto her viewers, and she remains the country’s most popular talk show host by far.

People around Ms. Winfrey say they sense that she is nervous about OWN. “I wish more people were watching,” she said, when asked about OWN’s weekly show-about-her-talk-show. But she seems at peace with her decision, made 18 months ago, to quit her syndicated program and the incredibly demanding schedule that goes with it.

With just a handful of shows remaining, Ms. Winfrey said she was still pondering what to say on her last episode. .

For Ms. Winfrey, leaving is turning into yet another teachable moment. Her farewell tour this season has been fantastical to her fans and egomaniacal to others. All manner of anchors, actors, and authors have kissed her ring. President Obama, whom she helped to elect, dropped by last month.

Along the way she has revisited her struggles with weight and her town hall meetings on race relations, apologized to the disgraced author James Frey for not showing sufficient compassion in an interview five years ago and taken her studio audience sightseeing in Australia.

The tour culminates on Monday and Tuesday with “Surprise, Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular,” an arena show with an audience of 13,000 that was taped earlier this week, and a more intimate finale on Wednesday at her famous studio in Chicago. Commercials for the finale ask, “Where will you be?”

Ms Winfrey has economic motives for the pomp and circumstance, of course. Expecting a big audience for the finale, advertisers have paid $1 million apiece for 30 seconds of commercial time on the last hour of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Ms. Winfrey is likely to use at least a little bit of that time to promote OWN, which is available in about 80 million homes.

But no one disputes that she deserves something of a victory lap. Ms. Winfrey etched herself into the culture by revolutionizing the television talk show format, making it a place where both celebrities and ordinary Americans could spill their hearts, holding her hand all the while.

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