How Oprah made me a star

By Richard Cohen Published:

By Richard Cohen

Is it over? I think it is, but I thought it was over before and then suddenly it all starts up again and someone comes up and says they saw me and I was wonderful -- and then asks, What is she really like? It has been this way now since I appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show about two weeks ago. With Oprah, the storied 15 minutes of fame could last a good half-hour.

This is disheartening to a writer such as myself. Writers write for others, for readers, and so we seek an audience. I have had one for many years now and so I have experienced a dollop of fame. I get plenty of e-mails, plenty of regular mail, too, and from time to time I appear on television, usually a public affairs show desperately in need of some wisdom or a spot of glamour. I like to think of myself as a two-fer.

But nothing -- and I mean nothing -- prepared me for Oprah. After the show, there was a calm-before-the-storm period in which, naif that I am, I thought I had done a mere television show. Oh, sure, I knew Oprah was Oprah and that she was widely viewed and this show had been about James Frey and the subject of truth, which I am totally for, and it was, I tell you, gripping. I knew all that.

Still ... kapow! My cell phone started to pulse and then get warm and then overheat. I was being called by everyone. Could I go on Larry King, Tucker Carlson, Anderson Cooper? Cooper himself got on the phone. I love your work, I told him, as if he cared. What he really cared about was getting me on the show. Sorry.

CBS The Early Show called. Today called also, but too late. I had already agreed to CBS. National Public Radio wanted me and, of course, I did it because NPR is a civic obligation. My colleague, Howard Kurtz, wanted me to do his Sunday show on CNN and Wolf Blitzer wanted me in the Situation Room that very night. But I could not do Larry King and Anderson Cooper and Tucker Carlson and Wolf Blitzer in the same evening. I turned them all down.

Access Hollywood called. Honest. I considered taking off my tie, spiking my hair, shmearing it with gel and going on to talk about Oprah and Jen and Angelina and other women I know and are pretty close to (sort of), but I did not think this would comport with my self-image (as a kind of svelte Henry Kissinger) and so, with some reluctance, I turned down Access Hollywood, keeping my inside stuff to myself. Maybe, yknow, someday.

US Weekly wanted me. Newsweek wanted me. The New York Times, too. Countless people told me how great I had been, although a TV critic for the Times, a Maureen Dowd-Alessandra Stanley wannabe, observed that I had been sucking up to Oprah. My lawyers are still examining the article.

It was all too much, too heady. I got stopped on airplanes: Saw ya on Oprah. Old friends called, former girlfriends who I thought would never forgive me. Some people liked my tie. Others even remembered something I said. People called to say other people had called them. Wasnt I the one who came to the wedding, the party, the dinner, the funeral? I was, you see, just a couple of degrees from Oprah. It was never about me. It was all about Oprah.

I had passed into a certain circle of fame. I had gone from news to entertainment and into the orbit of Oprah. I found out that many people routinely tape or TiVo the show. I was surprised at the breadth and depth of the audience and her immense importance to so many people. She was like some sort of God who could just create you. She had created Dr. Phil. She had created Marianne Williamson. For a couple of days, I thought she had created me.

Alas, she had not. Bit by bit, my fame has been receding. Its now been almost a day since anyone mentioned my incredible performance on Oprah and I now have a more realistic, and glummer, appreciation of where I -- and most of us print people -- stand in the scheme of things: pretty close to nowhere. I know this now and, really, its OK with me and, at last, maybe I can concentrate on the truly important work I do.

Tucker, Anderson, Wolf, Im available.

2006, Washington Post Writers Group

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.