Oprah and her producers reveal what went on behind the scenes to make that magic day happen.
WBEZ Chicago recently concluded a three-part podcast documentary on The Oprah Winfrey Show called Making Oprah. Normally, this isn’t news we’d share with you, but the last episode is particularly interesting because it focuses largely on Oprah’s famous car giveaway from the premier of her 19th season. On that day, she gave all 276 members of her studio audience a brand new Pontiac G6, and the annals of pop culture got a new phrase to file away: “You get a car!”
Episode three of Making Oprah is worth a listen to learn what that day and the weeks leading up to it were like for Oprah herself, as well as her unflaggingly committed and optimistic producers who nearly killed themselves to pull it off.
In order to whet your appetite for all those Oprah factoids, here are 6 things you probably didn’t about Oprah’s famous car giveaway.
1. Oprah made her producers replace the red bows on all 276 cars the night before the giveaway; she thought they were too small. These appear to be the bows they ended up going with, despite Oprah recalling in the podcast that she told her producers “the bows should cover the whole hood of the car.”
2. The keys placed inside boxes and handed out to each audience member were taped down so they wouldn’t rattle inside the box when it was shook; if audience members knew a key was inside, the surprise would be ruined.
3. Most of the people in the audience were identified by producers beforehand as being in need of a new car and hand-selected to attend. The producers asked them questions like how they got to work and how old their car was.
4. The idea for the car giveaway came from Oprah’s friend Gayle King, who sat next to someone from Pontiac on a flight and struck up a conversation. The show had originally asked Pontiac for 25 cars to giveaway, but kept asking the automaker for more until the total number reached 276. The value of the cars to Pontiac was about $7.7 million.
5. Paramedics were in the studio that day in case anyone in the audience suffered a medical emergency from the shock of the giveaway. We couldn’t find any reports of them having to spring into action, but the audience was reportedly screaming so loudly that Oprah wasn’t sure if they heard her explanation of what was happening. That’s why today we have the wonderful meme of her screaming “You get a car! And you get a car!”
6. The Oprah Winfrey Show paid the sales tax and registration for each car, but not the gift tax, which could be up to $7,000 for some audience members. While the show did offer a cash prize for those who didn’t want to or couldn’t pay the gift tax, some audience members complained to the press, which devastated the producers.
BONUS: Watch how it all unfolded in this YouTube video.