Photo Credit: Courtesy OWN
In less than 65 days, The Oprah Winfrey Show will have its final episode after 25 seasons of high-wattage guests, emotional moments and giveaways that made audiences scream. In honor of the milestone, iVillage went behind the scenes with some of Oprah Winfrey's most valued staff members -- who are currently starring on OWN's Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET) -- to find out what it's like working for the media queen, how they feel about the show's end and their vision for the final episode.
From sending an entire audience to Australia to creating two "Favorite Things" episodes, the Harpo staff has been in overdrive for its 25th season. "I had a lot of sleepless nights in the summer getting ready for it because it was like looking at Mt. Everest," executive producer Sheri Salata confesses. "How in the world can we -- after all these years and after everything we've done and raising the bar higher and higher and higher -- how are we going to meet this moment?"
The pressure, it seems, is coming from wanting to do the viewers, the show, and Oprah Winfrey herself proud. "Working for Oprah this long has helped me be who I'm supposed to be. It's exactly how the TV show translates to the people who are watching it," explains senior producer Jenna Kostelnik, who's been working for Harpo for 14 years.
So yes, to the outside world, Winfrey is something of a superhuman, but she's also that way to people who have known her for years. "I am always in awe every second. I'm very aware of her extraordinary energy and that I'm really in the presence of something great," Salata admits. "Even when we're just having a giggle. I don't think you ever forget that there is something extraordinary in this human life happening on this planet, and it's pretty much always present."
Of course, as she exposes very openly on Behind the Scenes, as terrific as Winfrey is, she's still a boss. "I feel natural around her," Kostelnik says. "But when she has the Vulcan eye lock on you, you're like, 'Oh, God!'"
Viewers were privy to that "Vulcan eye lock" during the Behind the Scenes episode about Oprah and best friend Gayle King's road trip to Yosemite National Park. During one leg of the trip, the cameras in Winfrey and King's car weren't turned on. After senior supervising producer Lisa Morin suggested that they re-film part of the drive, Winfrey was none too pleased. "My 11-year-old son couldn't watch that episode. He was honestly distraught," Morin explains. "Then there'd be a promo where Oprah would say 'You're delusional,' and he'd be like 'Oh, you're in trouble again!' Finally he left the room."
Of course, having your family witness your screw-ups isn't the only downside to having your job filmed. "Most of my scenes are the end of the day in Oprah's office. I don't have one snoot of makeup on. My hair is hanging in my face. My poor mother is like, 'Can't you put a little lipstick on before the meeting?'" Salata laughs. And she's not the only one who gotten a family critique! "My mother called and was like, 'Please put some mascara on and what is up with that headband?'" Kostelnik jokes about her on-air hairdo.
As Behind the Scenes and the farewell season of Oprah wind down, the staff is experiencing mixed emotions. "I feel great. I am ready for it to end. I feel a lot of excitement for the future. But not to say it's not emotional. This is our family and it will be very emotional on many levels. But at the same time I'm ready for my own personal next chapter," says supervising producer Jill van Lokeren.
"We started this season and I would have been right there with a lot of other people calling it bittersweet. That's what it really felt like to me," Salata adds. "But I would say I feel so good about how this season has gone. I think that we have done the legacy proud. I would say the bitter is gone now. I think I'm ready to say goodbye to it."
So what will that final goodbye be like? Though Oprah fans know that she doesn't like surprises, Winfrey has agreed to let that slide this one time. "She has kept her commitment that she would stay out of it and let us surprise her, understanding that that's really what our viewers love," Salata says of the final three episodes. As for the very last episode? "She and I are kind of huddling behind closed doors, cloaked in secrecy about what that will be. What I can tell you is that it will be exactly what it needs to be."
And once that final show airs on May 25, the Harpo staff knows exactly what they'll do when they're done. "I'm going to sleep and have a couple days of just being really normal," Salata says. "But I think the first thing we're all going to do is drink."