Were you in the audience of the very first nationally televised episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, way back on Sept. 8, 1986? If so, Oprah would like a word with you.
A reunion of that audience is just one of many projects that Winfrey and her team are working on as they prepare for the syndicated show’s 25th and final season, premiering Sept. 13. Finding those won’t be easy, though.
“Those were the days when I would go out on the street and ask to come in: ‘Come in! It’s air-conditioned,'” Winfrey tells TV Guide in a new interview about the upcoming season. (Winfrey’s team has posted 26 images from that telecast and is asking for help in matching names to faces.)
The final season will include other homecomings, too. Winfrey plans to travel to Forsyth County in Georgia, where she famously visited in 1987 to explore its reputation as a hotbed of racism; and to Williamson, W.Va., the scene of another episode that same year, where a young man who had AIDS was denied access to a grocery store in town.
Winfrey will ask more of her celebrity guests this season, too. “We’re saying to all of our celebrity friends, this is not the year you can come on and just promote your book or promote your song,” she says. “You have to create moments. So, the team is looking at ways of pairing different celebrities to create unexpected moments.” Asked if President Obama is booked for an appearance, Winfrey replies: “No, I did not ask him to come on this year. But I did say, ‘I’m sure you will hear from somebody on my team before this year is over.’ I’m sure that at some point I will see a taped message or something.”
It sounds like the team has left no stone unturned in trying to distill the essence of the past 24 years into this final year. “We have nearly 5,000 hours of footage, and we broke up into different teams of who have over the past eight, nine months looked at every single show,” Winfrey says. “They have reviewed and documented every single show, so we know what to revisit.” – Tim Nudd