Omi

Is La Sardine one of your staple spots?

Yes, it’s [across from Harpo Studios so it’s] geographically very handy. I come here with Oprah for french fries. You guys have to try these french fries! 

And a glass of white Burgundy. It doesn’t get much better. Cheers!

Thank you, friends!

Is it often you get time away from work like this?

I was planning on going on vacation this Tuesday for the first time in a very long time. I was supposed to be going to Napa but then Oprah called, she’s going to be in the Himalayas in India for a meditation and yoga retreat. I was like, “Yes! That will be so much better!” so now I’m leaving to go there on Sunday!

What has been the biggest change in your life since being named president of OWN?

Just technically from a schedule point of view in some ways my new job is actually less work than my old job running “The Oprah Winfrey Show” because that was really hard. That was being at work at 5:30 in the morning and still talking about it at 11:30 at night, seven days a week. Then you get done with the season and it’s figuring out what we’re going to do next season. Or it’s Sunday night and the two shows on Wednesday just canceled so you’re scrambling to come up with something. I found that extremely rough. I did that job for five years and I don’t know how Oprah did it for 25. You have to have a special amount of stamina. There’s definitely something [special] going on for you to be able to do that for 25 years.

Is your home base still here in Chicago?

I go back and forth between Chicago and L.A. and I frame that as a nice experience. I had been in the [Harpo Studios] building forever so now I’m opening up and I get to experience something else. I rented a nice little house out there and I have more control over the logistics of my day in, day out. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that so it feels really good.

Was the transition into your new role as easy as you make it seem?

The way it happened was interesting. I had to learn a whole new industry in two weeks, that certainly was challenging. It’s kind of like that expression, “It’s good you don’t always know what’s going to happen next because if you did you might be too scared to go through the door.” So you go through the door and you buckle down and work your way through it and then go, “Whew, I’m glad I didn’t know that was going to happen. But I’m also glad I went through it.” That’s kind of what these last couple of years have felt like.

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How do you manage stressful times like that?

Well, let’s have a sip of the white Burgundy. [Laughs] To be perfectly honest, I don’t totally do that well but the one tool I do use is TM [Transcendental Meditation]. When things are going off the rails for me and when I’m starting to feel stressed and anxious and overwhelmed it’s usually because I haven’t meditated. If I get back on and make that time for it then everything starts to flow again and I start to find my center. It’s really all in my hands and it isn’t about what’s going on on the outside. I always have to remember that.

Were you hesitant to be the one in front of the cameras for a change on “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes”?

Oh, yes. Because here’s the truth, you have a whole company full of producers so they know the game. You have a bunch of experts who don’t want their mistakes on television but also know at the same time that it’s not good television unless you open up and show what really happens. We wouldn’t have done it except for the fact that Oprah couldn’t do a show on her own network until “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was over. But what we could do without upsetting our affiliates was something that was behind the scenes and promoted the last year of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” so it made sense for everybody.

What are the biggest differences between you and OWN’s co-president Erik Logan?

Wow, that’s a great question. Erik is brilliant at everything I’m not. I don’t think Oprah has ever had anyone quite like him in her business life before. He is so smart and fearless, he really is. He is fearless and he’s free of a lot of the baggage that comes from being inside of a company for all of these years and years. He’s Mr. “Why not?” and, “Of course we can!” He’s sat down at the table with big-time negotiators and come out a winner so that is so much fun for me to be around because I’m the opposite. I’m more of, “How are we going to do that?” and he just makes it happen. He’s really quite a genius.

Oprah speaks a lot about being present in the moment. You live a pretty cool life. Are you good at taking it all in?

No, I’m like anybody. It’s just normal life. You get asked that question and then you go, “Wow, I do have kind of an amazing life,” but otherwise I’m picking up poop in the morning, walking my dogs and going to work.

How has your relationship with Oprah evolved over the years?

I’ve always felt a real affinity with her. Even when I was at a non-senior level I always felt like there was a spiritual connection that transcended where we were in our professional lives and what was going on in the company and all of the layers. Really early on we would sit at our little cubicles watching the show tapings and you’d see the morning show taping and the afternoon show taping. Think about the privilege of that, where you are paid to watch Oprah tape three hours a day for decades. I would say she is one of my greatest teachers and one of my most fun friends, like fun. Fun and we like to talk about the same things. Not a week goes by where we don’t have three or four conversations about spirituality and growth and evolvement. I love that, I think that’s a great way to live.

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What do you remember most about meeting Oprah for the first time?

It was my shoes. The first time I met Oprah I had on Spats. It wasn’t a great outfit but I remember there was a moment when those were so cool and she had said, “Nice shoes.” My mom and I lived off of that for like 12 months! [Laughs]

You started at Harpo as a promotions producer 18 years ago. What was it about you that set you apart?

Here is what I think it is and I think it is only right this minute I can tell you the real answer to that. There is a divine timing to things that you cannot see when things are not going your way. I had given up everything and started over to work in television. I look back on it now and I’m like, “Everything? What did I have? I had like three grand in a 401K!” But at the time it felt like everything. When I walked through these doors at Harpo—and there’s people like this at every job—there were certain people complaining over something like the flavor of the coffee. I was like, “Are you kidding? This is the lottery win.” I wasn’t worried about what was next or when I was going to be promoted. I really did not care. I didn’t care what they gave me to do because I was going to do my best at every little bit of a thing. So it’s really about timing and letting things line up and knowing that it’s going to work out. Then once it does start to work out you have a deep appreciation for every moment.

How would you describe yourself beyond your job titles?

I like to think I’m funny. I would say I’m a loyal friend. Other than a couple of exceptions my newest friend I’ve had for 20 years so I’m devoted to those friendships. They are more meaningful to me than anything. I would describe myself as one that’s on that spiritual seeking journey, whether I’m working or just hanging out with my friends that pretty much defines me.

What do you think the city of Chicago did for “The Oprah Winfrey Show”?

[Takes sip of wine] Am I overly enjoying “A Drink With”? [Laughs] Oh gosh, I’ll tell you what Oprah would say. There would not have been “The Oprah Winfrey Show” without Chicago. What the show became and how it evolved was only possible because it was out of the mainstream of Hollywood and the entertainment circuit. It really was its own special thing that was very grounded and rooted in a Midwestern sensibility. Chicago created an environment and defined the show so Oprah would say that it wouldn’t have happened this way otherwise. Chicago is a central character in this story.

What neighborhood do you live in?

I live in the north end of Lincoln Park, south end of Lakeview at Diversey and Lake Shore Drive. I live in a beautiful vintage building so I look out at the lake and trees.

Are you a morning or night person?

You know, can I tell you? I’m not sure I know the answer to that because my life for so long was artificially scheduled. For all of those years I had to be here by 6:30 in the morning. That means everything you need to do, you have to do before 6:30. You’re setting your alarm at 4:30. Are you washing your hair at any time this week? All of that kind of stuff. So you better become a bit of a morning person, right? Plus now since I’m older I can’t really go out partying anymore so I really don’t know!

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What’s one thing you do every single day?

I know what I would like to tell you. Let’s see. I would like to tell you that I’m hopping out of bed, running three miles, that I have my green tea and my green juice…

That would be such a boring answer though.

Right? Who would like me then? Here’s what I do every day without fail. Bella and Kissy, my English bulldogs who are like daughters to me, are walked every morning. That’s always fun because they don’t like to get up early so I literally have to wake them up like waking up children for school like, “Come on, I told you five minutes ago! Come on!” They snore while they are peeking out at me so there’s a whole situation that goes on that I find quite entertaining.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

First I would ask you, living or dead? Because I have two answers.

Either.

Okay. I’m going to say that since we’re in Chicago everybody probably has already taken my dead answer. I am a huge Abraham Lincoln fanatic. I’ve now seen “Lincoln” 20 times. I’ve read Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln” every year for 15 years or so. As for alive, I’ve had some really great drinks with great people so I have fulfilled a lot of those dreams. Tom Hanks is particularly fun. Who else would I say? It’s another Abraham! It is Esther Hicks. She is a spiritual teacher and speaker, she’s awesome. She would be my other one.

You can probably read people well in your line of work. What do you think says the most about someone?

It always says a lot about somebody by how they treat people and how interested they are in anybody’s story but their own. When you watch someone move through life I think what’s also most telling is how they handle and react to failure, because that’s a test. You know, you can become a blamer. Are you finding all of the ways that it’s not your fault? You can become competitive. I’ve known very nice people who have become the most terrible liars and worst manipulators because of that fear of failure. So I think that is a very good guide to see what somebody’s really all about.

What are some of your fears? Whether they’re silly or serious.

Silly? I struggle a little bit sometimes with the fear of heights. Like that Sears Tower balcony with the glass? Just thinking about it I could literally pass out. But I still push myself. I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’ve jumped out of a plane so it’s not terrible. Other than that I would still say I live quite a fearless life. There is very little that I am afraid of anymore.

Last person who surprised you?

I had a wonderful experience with Wanda Sykes. We did a couple of specials with her. She was lovely and just a part of the team. I thought that was awesome because she’s a big star. She was very sweet and really great.

Most shocking demand from a celebrity?

Let me think. Oh my God, if I tell you what they said it will be obvious who they are so I’ll change it around just a smidge. Somebody was coming from somewhere and arriving where we were at and their poor little assistant was in quite a dither and needing a specific answer as to how that person would be met and greeted. So what that meant was, quote unquote, what will the pageantry for them be? How many people will be waiting? And so on. Which was like, oh please!

Is it safe to say everyone is on their best behavior when Oprah walks in the room?

Yeah, everybody acts different that’s for sure. There have been crazy things, like it was 2012 and you’d go into a green room and someone is drinking and smoking at 9 in the morning. In the green room! In Oprah’s building! I’m like, “What is wrong with you? That is not how we operate in this day and age!” So yes, there are a million stories. If those walls could talk…

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  • Kai Summers

    I get the impression this woman doesn’t have a life away from Harpo/Own, that she has given up her life to be at the beckon call of the Great O?

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Omi