Oprah Winfrey’s bombshell interview delivered huge ratings and showed the power of a good story
| The Detroit News
It was the interview heard ’round the world.
Oprah Winfrey’s sit down with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry last Sunday scored an astonishing 17.1 million viewers in the U.S., a triumph for a network broadcast event in our scattered television landscape. For comparison’s sake, it was more than double the viewership of the recent Golden Globes telecast. Next month’s Oscars would do well to match those figures.
In the U.K., an additional 11.1 million people tuned in, roughly a sixth of the population.
Hot takes about the monarchy abounded this week, saying it’s outdated and irrelevant. And yes, it probably is, but the numbers tell a different story. The numbers tell us it’s the best human drama we have going today.
Think about it, it’s got it all: History. Honor. Tradition. Family. Royalty. Sex. Race. Scandal. Celebrity. Intrigue. And yes, now Oprah, too. It’s no wonder so many people were drawn in.
And even if you don’t care what happens with Queen Elizabeth or Prince Harry or the bloodline, you know the players, and that shared knowledge is an extremely valuable commodity in our fractured collective headspace.
What unites us anymore? Not politics or the news, which are as divisive as ever. Not movies, since the pandemic shuttered theaters and studios now disperse content across a thousand different platforms that no one can keep straight.
Not sports, where ratings are down across the board. (There’s the Super Bowl, of course, which exists in a league of its own.) The occasional streaming show, such as “Tiger King” or “The Queen’s Gambit,” is able to break through and spark a shared conversation, but those events are few and far between.
It won’t be the Grammys, which are airing Sunday, the biggest story going into which is the snub of the Weeknd. (The Toronto superstar’s “Blinding Lights” has spent a record-setting 52 weeks in Billboard’s Top 10 and is one of the biggest songs of the last decade, yet wasn’t nominated in any categories. Figure that one out.)
But then there’s the royals, who continue to fascinate, even from afar. You don’t have to buy every supermarket tabloid to know what’s going on with them, and how their very existence is in tatters.
The story of Harry and Meghan’s split from the family (or “The Firm,” as it’s cryptically known) is the stuff of classic drama, a push-pull of old vs. new, stodgy vs. contemporary, and the storylines and implications are riveting. One day it will all play out in an Oscar-winning movie (or a season of “The Crown,” or both).
Add Oprah in the mix and the interview was a readymade blockbuster.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the world’s biggest stars (and one of the world’s most keen interviewers), which it’s easy to forget since she took herself out of the daily rat race when she ended her eponymous talk show 10 years ago this May. But she was absolutely the right choice for this, and no one else could have delivered the same fireworks on the big stage. With Markle she asked the right questions, she knew when to hang back and when to press, and she helped turn the interview into an event.
That mix of power and personality cut a wide swath, which was reflected in the ratings and the reverberations from the special all week. It’s not often that something can take us by storm and bring us together anymore. If that’s what the royal family is still good for, maybe that’s enough.
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