Media Lessons from Oprah’s Interview with Meghan and Harry

The dust is still settling on Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Royal free agents Meghan and Harry, but Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy at CNN have assembled a list of media and PR lessons:

 – Don’t give it all away ahead of time. “If anything, all of the hype underestimated just how revealing this interview would be,” Brianna Keilar said to me on CNN. She’s right. The teasers generated a week’s worth of attention ahead of time but didn’t spill any of the tea. Oprah’s team ensured that nothing leaked. As a result, the palace couldn’t prebut the interview and the special contained maximum shock value.

 – Let it breathe. The interview “really showed the power of the long-format interview, which is almost totally gone from TV nowadays,” THR’s Alex Weprin commented. “Everything is crunched into tight, fast-paced segments now, to the detriment of all involved.” 

 – Follow-up questions make all the difference. “Oprah best displayed her interviewing chops by relentlessly circling back to emotional or newsmaking comments like a heat-seeking missile,” WaPo’s Margaret Sullivan wrote. But Winfrey didn’t rush or interrupt. She sometimes waited half an hour before circling back “to clarify, to get the specifics, to nail down the news.” And that, of course, is the luxury of a taped interview.

 – Leave something on the cutting room floor. Winfrey’s announcement at the end of the broadcast that additional clips would air on Monday’s “CBS This Morning” was a nice bit of synergy…

 – Broadcast TV still has juice, but it’s getting harder to squeeze. Legacy networks still have the ability to convene large numbers of people, but it takes something huge – something like Oprah, Meghan and Harry.

 – History has an echo. “It was hard to escape the eerie parallels between Princess Diana’s 1995 Martin Bashir interview and this one,” Brian Lowry wrote. “And give Netflix an assist, since ‘The Crown’ has brought that back to life for millions…”

 — Don’t forget about the streamers. On Sunday I encountered lots of complaintsfrom cable-free households who wanted to watch the special but seemed lost. Networks that are constantly promoting their streaming services need a plan and proactive outreach for moments like this. (The special is now streaming for free on CBS.com.)

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