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Drive My Car

Leave it to Oprah. To celebrate her talk fest's 19th season,
The Oprah Winfrey Show upstaged all of
syndication Sept. 13. She gave a Pontiac G6, a new model hot off the assembly
line, to each of the 276 members of the studio audience.

The giveaway kicked off "Oprah's Wildest Dreams Come True," a recurring
segment expected to be a season highlight. The first show was a dream come true
for many stations, pulling in an enormous 10.1 rating/24 share in the
primary-run, weighted metered markets—its best premiere since 1996.

Winfrey's staff spent the summer canvassing potential audience members
who needed cars, says Carly Ubersox, a rep for Harpo Productions. "We put plugs
on our Web site, and we used our affiliate stations. We asked questions that
prompted people to write in about their cars without letting them know what we
were planning."

Not only do the lucky 276 get cars, but they get to customize them with
colors and features, including heated leather seats, sunroof, remote start and
XM Satellite Radio. Cameras panned a parking lot full of new cars. In truth,
the winners will receive their cars sometime between October and February.

"We decided we needed to do something so big nobody could follow us,"
says Pontiac Marketing Director Mark-Hans Richer. "No other manufacturer had
ever done anything really huge with Oprah before. This was unprecedented."

In what amounts to the largest product-placement effort of all time,
Pontiac is paying for all 276 cars, including registration, license fees and
sales tax—a reported $7 million giveaway.

But the cars were just the beginning.

In last Friday's show, Avril Lavigne performed an impromptu concert for
a high school where the student-council president is struggling with cancer. In
coming weeks, John Travolta (while promoting his new movie,
Ladder 49) will personally reward two
firefighters for saving a colleague.

Even though Oprah got all the
attention, eight syndicated shows debuted last week. Paramount's new access
magazine, The Insider, pulled the biggest
premiere rating, with a 2.6/5, lower than expected. The surprise performance
came from Buena Vista's The Tony Danza Show,
which premiered at a 2.1/7.