‘TV revolution’

What you never knew about Oprah’s iconic car giveaway episode

Oprah Winfrey (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the Oprah show has revealed the backstory behind Oprah Winfrey’s iconic 2004 car giveaway, in which the groundbreaking talk show host famously told audience member after audience member that “you get a car!”

In a three-part podcast titled Making Oprah: The Inside Story of a TV Revolution, journalist Jenn White spoke to Oprah about how the famous car giveaway came about. According to Oprah, her friend Gayle King had struck up a friendship with an executive from Pontiac while on a flight, which later led him to offer Winfrey 25 cars for a promotional giveaway on her show. But Winfrey and her producers wanted to make a bigger splash, and ultimately managed to convince the manufacturer to gift a brand new G6 to every member of the studio audience. In total, the 276 cars were valued at $7.7 million dollars.

“When we sat down and started to talk about the car giveaway, I asked, ‘How do we find people who really need cars?’ Because that would make it worth it to me … that would give it a depth and an intention,” Winfrey told White, explaining that it would have meant little to give cars to people who didn’t need them. In the end, they used questions on the audience applications such as “how do you get to work?” and “how old is your car?” to help fill a whole audience with people that “genuinely needed new cars.”

Winfrey and the producers managed to keep the secret of the giveaway from the audience, telling them during the show that one lucky audience member had a box with the key to the car. The seminal moment came as the entire audience opened their boxes and realized that each of them contained a key.

In the end, however, the giveaway led future audience members to be upset that they weren’t receiving equivalently lavish gifts. And even audience members who won a car began complaining to the press after they realized they had to pay a gift tax of up to $7,000 for the vehicle.

“We put our whole soul into this moment of television and with real intention to do something good, and so when people had a negative reaction, it, like, literally hurt our feelings,” explained producer Lisa Erspamer.

Below watch the highlight of that iconic TV moment.

Read the full story at The New York Post.

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