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'Oprah' final episodes will be 'fantastical, wondrous'

April 22, 2011|Yvonne Villarreal | Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles —

Behind every great daytime queen, there's a great executive producer. Helping to ensure Oprah Winfrey's place on the throne is Sheri Salata.

Fans have come to know Salata from her occasional appearances on the talk show, whether it be a cut to her in the production booth or a cameo onstage. But these days Salata, who in addition to being executive producer of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is also president of Harpo Studios, is getting more onscreen time via OWN's "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes." The series gives viewers a glimpse inside the makings of the epic farewell season -- including Hugh Jackman's faulty attempt at ziplining off the Sydney Opera House, the hefty price of getting Danny Glover onstage and Oprah's date with Jackie Jackson.

We chatted with Salata about what it's like working for the O, the pressures of living an enlightened life, and we tried to get her share some hints on the "Oprah" final episodes.

Q. How did you find yourself working on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"?

A. It's a miracle story.

Q. Well, she likes those.

A. Well, almost everybody has one. I was an agency producer; I produced television commercials. I had a little dream. I was in Chicago. It was 1995. I thought I would really, really like to work for Oprah one day. I had no TV experience other than producing television commercials, which is a very different discipline. I applied for the job. I got a message on my voicemail -- or rather the answering machine -- and it said, "Thank you for applying but you are not what we are looking for." I was so embarrassed for thinking that I would be a good fit. Never in a million years would I apply again.

My resume and reel were sort of stuffed in a closet. A new boss came in for the promo department and wanted to hire some people. She went ruffling through those old tapes and popped mine in. Then I get a message: "This is so-and-so from 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'; we'd like to have you come in and produce some freelance spots for us." I was happy. I didn't care. I would have swept the floor or stocked the coffee cups if they let me.

Q. It was your "Color Purple" moment.

A. It was my "Color Purple" moment. Although, I'm trying to think ... I think I did surrender.

Q. Right, you have to surrender. That's crucial to the teachings of Oprah.

A. You're so right.

Q. Is it hard to sort of live by those teachings? She has such an enlightened outlook on things -- do you sort of feel obligated to practice her ways? Can't you ever just be bitter about something?

A. Here's the truth: She's also a human being and very understanding. She understands that we're under stress, we're under pressure. We don't have to be Polly Perfect. She's not looking for that. She's looking for honesty and truthfulness. She understands that we get bratty and crabby. She's very patient.

Q. So were you glad that they decided to chronicle the final year ... or hesitant at being in front of the camera? It's like a yearbook!

A. That is exactly what I said to my disgruntled and upset staff. Nobody reacts positively to being filmed doing all of their duties at work. But I said, "Listen, let's make some lemonade." At the end of it, we are going to have a visual scrapbook of what this took.

Here's part of the challenge: We're pros. We shoot other people. We're a little savvier than a fresh, new reality star. But it did take some getting used to for that very reason, you know, we're experienced but still awkward. After a while, though, here's what happened: The season started. You are so busy having to roll through these shows and deliver them at the level of a farewell season. It's like, whatever, so my lip gloss isn't on, who cares?

Q. You've made the occasional appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." But "Oprah Behind the Scenes" has surely increased your fame factor, right?

A. Yes, it's been very fun. This will be my 10 minutes. I take pictures at airports. I take pictures on my way into work. It's lovely. I really appreciate it. It's very sweet. People are just so nice about it. What really makes me smile, and what's really gratifying about it is I think for the first time "Oprah Show" viewers have a real sense of what it takes to put on a show on the air every day. It's hard! And people are so sweet about that. They acknowledge that everywhere I go.

Q. We definitely get a greater sense of what Oprah is like as a boss. But it's only a snapshot. So give us the real scoop.

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