Saturday, January 8, 2011

My O.W.N. Behind the Scenes - Being on Oprah

As Anderson Cooper admitted last weekend, I'm lovin' O.W.N., Oprah's network. I confess, "Season 25" with the behind-the-scenes is awesome. I wish all authors would watch to see what goes into making a show, so they wouldn't feel so disappointed that their "Oprah dream" (and EVERY author has one) didn't come to fruition -- because it does not come easy.  

And, truth be told (if the truth is to be told here), having had an author "on the Oprah show" revealed what this publisher never, ever could have imagined. The Contract. The one guests sign with Harpo that says they will not use their appearance in any marketing or product packaging. I get it. But it didn't really sink in until I realized the "Wyatt-MacKenzie Author on Oprah" press release I had been writing in my head for the last 12 years (after dozens and dozens and dozens of attempts) was not going to be sent out after all. Even adding a link on the media page made us nervous. We really wanted to stay in Harpo's good graces for a future appearance in the event, for example, my author finds Osama bin Laden. I'm not joking. She was the one who first warned about him in 1993 (see the declassified documents on her website). But since Oprah is lifting the curtain, I thought I could too.  

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How I got Gina on Oprah...  

Gina Bennett's NATIONAL SECURITY MOM: HOW GOING SOFT CAN MAKE AMERICA STRONG (NOV 2008) was our 74th book selling mainstream. Peter Bergen (CNN national security expert) called it simply, "Brilliant." As profoundly important as Gina's book is, it still wasn't enough to get the attention of Oprah producers. So, shortly after I finished her website I pitched Gina, like I do all of my authors, for a query on's "upcoming shows." This one was: Do you know a "superwoman"? 
       Is there a "superwoman" in your life that you find amazing and inspiring? The Oprah Winfrey Show is looking for remarkable women who are doing it all. Tell us who are the "superwomen" in your life. Do you know someone with a successful career that still manages to raise a large family? Is there a superstar activist in your community who juggles it all? Do you have a prestigious or demanding job that you excel at? Or maybe you know someone who's survived something difficult or achieved the impossible. Please attach 2 photos for example, if you're a teacher and a mother of 6, please take a photo with your children in a classroom. If you're a pilot, snap a photo in the plane's cockpit. We want to see a superwoman in action! We may use your photo on an upcoming show. Please only send in photos you are willing to have published on-air. 
My pitch on August 28: 
       Superwoman Gina Bennett weaves her day-to-day counterterrorism career for the CIA with her life as a mom of five—intertwining baseball games and President briefings, dance class and declassifications, peace among the teenagers with peace around the world. 
       If you are looking for a superstar activist, Gina was inspired to join the frontlines of the “war on terror” 20 years ago, and has written some of the most important intelligence of our time including the 1993 warning of Bin Laden! CNN’s terrorism analyst Peter Bergen calls her work “brilliant” and refers to it in his bestseller, THE OSAMA BIN LADEN I KNOW, as does most major media whenever the reports she has written are declassified (one as recently as 8/20/08, another in 2005 deemed “prescient” and “genius” by the New York Times).
       I have never met a woman like Gina. Her philosophy that “going soft” will make America strong—just as President Clinton said at the DNC this week: “lead by the power of our example, not the example of our power”—and her compassionate, energetic, steadfast search for the truth, the threats, and the security of the future for our children, inspires me and is sure to engage others.

I attached 3 photos from this animation -- Gina in a Helicopter over Iraq, Gina on a camel in Giza, and one of her family on vacation.

Scratched in huge letters across my journal on September 9th: "OPRAH CALLED!" An assistant producer asked me to send more high resolution photos. They were interested in including Gina in a show that would feature Alicia Keys performing her new song "Superwoman." I could barely breathe. The war-torn publishing angel on my shoulder cautioned me, "it doesn't mean anything." 

I was told there would be a meeting the following day. That afternoon the phone rang, it was Julie at Harpo. They needed pictures of Gina at work -- the CIA headquarters! -- by tomorrow. It was late in the day so I called Gina's husband on his cell phone. He was at a baseball game with the boys, Gina was at ballet with the girls. He couldn't believe when I told him what Harpo wanted. Everyone went into action. Gina broke through all colors of tape to get clearance from work, she passed Harpo's stringent background-check, she lined up the CIA's photographer, and the next day her husband got the 5 kids picked up from 3 different schools and brought everyone to the office. It was September 11, the highest level of security on this day than any other, and we were taking family photos on the CIA seal for Oprah's show. Unbelievable.

And here's that photo, on the big screen on Oprah's stage, behind Alicia Keys singing "Superwoman" on October 2, 2008...

And... my OWN behind the scenes, here's an archived video from that day. 
*WARNING: TURN VOLUME DOWN, my squeals can be deafening.*  

“…all the mothers fighting for better days to come.” Here here!

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THE AFTERMATH ... A wonderful turn of events landed our "Oprah story" in two amazing venues. The CIA posted a fantastic article on their website in January of 2009. (And the CIA gave me credit for getting their officer on the show -- which made me, and probably my dad in heaven, dance.) And, one of my heroes from the past, Susan Harrow, included our story in her "How to Get on Oprah" series -- a product I wanted to buy for many years when I was starting out, but could never afford. Sweet.

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FAST FORWARD TO TODAY ... I am beyond excited about the launch of O.W.N. -- now publishers and authors have an entire network full of opportunities to fulfill their Oprah dream. My personal favorite is the upcoming Rosie O'Donnell show. We had a Wyatt-MacKenzie gal open her show in 2001 with a catalog I created of work-at-home mom products on every seat of the audience (including the 2 existing Wyatt-MacKenzie books). I'm anxious for a chance to be in front of Rosie again -- 10 years, and 140 books, later!