This might surprise you, but I was not invited to Oprah Winfrey’s two-day party that celebrated her 25-year-old show ending. I’m sure I would have enjoyed hanging out with people like Aretha Franklin, Tom Cruise, and Michael Jordan. And I probably wouldn’t have been able to resist telling Maria Shriver, “Eat a little something.” But I wasn’t there, and that’s OK. It’s fine with me that Oprah was praised by people for two days. Why not? She earned all that adulation.
Oprah’s story is an “only in America” one. She started with nothing, and ended up one of the richest people in the world. She turned unknown writers into literary luminaries, and was responsible for several people getting their own TV shows. She had four former presidents on her stage as well as President Obama. And me.
That’s right, back in 1990, an entire Oprah show was devoted to a “My Turn” column I wrote for Newsweek. I wrote that kids were playing too many video games instead of real games with actual bats and balls and mud and the occasional scraped knee. Apparently, a great number of people wrote to Newsweek lauding or decrying my article. So, Oprah decided to devote an hour to the topic and have me on the show.
I barely got to talk, as it seemed that whoever talked the loudest got to talk the most. Parents of kids who played video games 15 hours a day bellowed about how wonderful their kids’ hand-eye coordination had become. Others sobbed loudly about the whole family going to support groups because of their electronic game addiction. I was the only one who didn’t come with rehearsed remarks. It never occurred to me to do that. I figured I’d throw in something clever now and then. That didn’t happen. Most of the time, I just sat there looking almost as uncomfortable as I felt.
Despite my poor on-camera performance, Oprah wouldn’t have had that entire one-hour show without me. Don’t get me wrong. It was a thrill and an honor to be on her show, but let’s face it: her show really took off after I was on it, and it continued to soar for the next 21 years. Coincidence? That’s possible.
I’m not the envious type, but when I see what she did for so many others who appeared on her show, I can’t help thinking that she could have done a little bit for me. She didn’t have to make my career skyrocket, but she could have used her magic to give it a little boost — or at least keep me employed. If she had hinted that she was going to make me a best-selling author, I might have actually finished writing that book that I’ve been talking about starting for years.
Look at Dr. Phil, Phil McGraw. He was an unknown psychologist who earned his bachelor’s in psychology from Midwestern State University. Have you ever heard of Midwestern State University? Do you even know what state it’s the midwestern university of? And this guy gets his own TV show because of Oprah. He’s so successful that he doesn’t need a last name. He’s just “Dr.Phil.” You’ve made it in our culture when you’re known by just your first name — like Barack or Madonna or Lady Gaga. If you say, “Lady Gaga,” everybody’s going to know which Lady Gaga you’re talking about. Similarly, if you say, “Dr. Phil,” nobody is going to think you’re talking about that credit dentist at the mall.
So Oprah, if you’re reading this, and I assume you are, I congratulate you on all of your success and wish you well on your new ventures. I really don’t want anything big from you, but I would love you to do something for me that you did for Dr. Phil. Could you please just make sure that everybody will think of me whenever they hear someone say, “Mr. Lloyd?”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.