When talented folks in any industry become available, chances are good they are not on the market for long. (See under “Manning, Peyton.”) And in the wake of Oprah Winfrey’s departure, the show’s former producers have spread throughout syndication, landing at shows such as Katie, Jeff Probst, Ellen and Anderson.
“The standard was so high where we worked, and we were always setting the bar higher and higher as the seasons progressed,” says Amy Coleman, executive producer of CBS Television Distribution’s Jeff Probst. Coleman started at CTD’s Oprah as an associate producer in 1994 and worked her way up to supervising producer. “I think [Oprah] was something unique and special, not only for us but for all of daytime. We really honed our abilities to find great stories and tell them in a special way. I think having that skill set appeals to everyone in television.”
Free agents with an Oprah asterisk on their résumés tend to not go unnoticed. Disney- ABC’s Katie, starring former CBS Evening News and Today show anchor Katie Couric, just hired Oprah’s Joe Terry to direct the show, as well as Eileen King as a supervising producer. Both Terry and King (a former associate producer on Oprah) will join executive producer Jeff Zucker and coexecutive producer Kathy Samuels on next season’s highly touted afternoon talker.
Several Oprah alums ended up at Warner Bros., with three working at Ellen and one at Warner Bros.’ rookie strip, Anderson. Bridgette Theriault, a coproducer on Oprah, now produces for Ellen; former Oprah staffer Hillary Robe also works on the show. Both join Melissa Gieger Schrift, who departed Oprah when Ellen launched in September 2003.
Also in the Warner Bros.’ camp, former Oprah staffer Rachel Hanfling now produces for Anderson. Lisa Morin, a top Oprah producer, was coexecutive producer on Anderson, but she has since departed. Terence Noonan, who had experience on Oprah spinoff Dr. Oz, is now Anderson’s executive producer.
Twentieth Television hired Anton Goss of Consortium Studios, who designed Oprah’s flashy but comfortable set, to do the honors for the pilot of the upcoming Ricki Lake. And the show will use that set, with only minor updates, for its September premiere, says a Ricki representative.
Coleman acknowledges that Oprah had more staff than most shows could ever hope for. But she also says that even with nearly inexhaustible resources, producing Oprah presented myriad challenges.
“Sometimes it’s just as hard to manage more people as it is to manage a few people really well,” says Coleman. “That’s something we’ve been talking about at The Jeff Probst Show—how we want to do things differently and in our own way. Really good television can be done much differently, with out-of-the-box thinking and a fresh take. I don’t think how well a story is lit or how much money you spent on your set will drive the content.
“What’s been really exciting about this year of transition for me,” continues Coleman, who is moving with her family from Chicago to Los Angeles to produce Probst, “is that I’m going to work for someone for the exact same reasons that I went to work for Oprah. They are both really great storytellers who are looking for provocative, engaging and uplifting stories for television.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.