Oprah Is Not the Only Game in Town: Five Good Places to Get Booked
by Karen Melamed
When people find out I was a producer on The Oprah Winfrey Show, two questions always come up: “What’s she really like?” followed by “How can I get on her show?”
These are people from all backgrounds and with all sorts of agendas. Some have a personal story to share; some have a product to push; and many have a book they want chosen for the powerful Oprah Book Club. I listen patiently and always ask a question of my own: “Have you tried getting on any other show?” Nope. Oprah’s their girl. The publishers and writers just know that Oprah would love their books. It’s Oprah or bust. So, usually, it’s bust.
Of course, some do make it to Chicago to be interviewed by Oprah, but winning the lottery might be easier. As producers, we had thousands of people to choose from because everyone wanted to talk to Oprah. Big-name celebrities, famous newsmakers, and New York Times bestselling authors were all lined up to fly to Chicago and jump on her studio couch. And guess what? Even some of those famous folk with expensive publicists couldn’t get past our desks, because they just didn’t fit into our show themes. I remember overhearing a fellow producer turn down Bill Clinton as a guest. And yes, he was president at the time.
So, what’s the best game plan? I tell people with a book they want to plug that many other shows can do just as much—or maybe even more—for the book. Here are five good options to pursue.
Go for Local TV
Every market, big or small, has some kind of local television show that interviews authors and experts. Sometimes it’s a talk show on in the morning. Sometimes it’s a noon news show. Sometimes it’s a two-hour show with half an hour reserved for interviews with guests from chefs to travel experts to authors who have something to add to the news of the day.
I used to produce for several local talk shows in top-10 markets, and while we were picky, we didn’t have the same prospect list that national shows have to pluck from, so we were always looking for people who might not be famous but would be great guests, people who were interesting because they had a new message or an unusual story to tell. We welcomed people who might have slipped through the cracks of bigger shows, and we gave them a large audience and airtime for selling their books.
Look at the local listings in your area and watch programs offered during the day and public affairs shows on Sundays. If you think you would be a good fit as a guest for a particular show, watch the credits that roll at the end and call or email the person listed as executive producer. Offer yourself as an emergency guest—available 24/7—so that if someone cancels at the last minute, the producer will know to call you.
Once you have a local track record, you can branch out to bigger markets.
Try for Talk Radio
Too many people forget about radio and the opportunities on the dial. AM stations are loaded with talk radio shows. Sure, many of them specialize in political talk, but if you go online and check your local radio listings, you’ll find many shows that cover restaurants, parenthood, and a variety of other topics. The hosts of these shows love talking to local authors.
And then there’s NPR. Local NPR stations are always talking to biographers, foodies with the latest cookbook, or scholars with interesting stories. On the NPR station in Pasadena the other day, a plastic surgeon talked about his new children’s book, which prepares kids for when Mommy or Daddy comes home with that new face. And the next segment was with Richard Dawkins talking about his book The God Delusion. He got 30 minutes with the host and took questions from listeners. It was great radio, and Dawkins was interviewed in The Los Angeles Times days later because someone heard him do that radio interview. Never turn your back on radio. It sells books.
Take Advantage of New Media
The beauty of new media—YouTube, podcasts, webisodes, and more—is that you are in control. Instead of waiting for someone to book you, you upload your material to your site and respond to reactions from media people.
Use Cable TV
Unlike network TV, cable TV offers hundreds of channels airing different kinds of shows geared toward different audiences. HGTV (for Home and Garden TV) features shows about home improvement. OXYGEN produces shows geared to women. BET (Black Entertainment Television) gears its shows to African-American viewers. CNBC is business oriented. Check out daytime lineups to find programs that are a good fit for your book.
Aim at Other Daytime TV Shows
In addition to producing for The Oprah Winfrey Show, I produced for other nationally syndicated talk shows, and because they were not Oprah, we were like Avis. We tried harder. We returned more phone calls, preinterviewed more guests, and booked more people.
With more time to fill, we covered a broader range of topics. We loved to find the next big thing and beat Oprah to the punch. A producer friend now working on a major morning show constantly sends emails that say she’s looking for experts on this or that since she has an hour of infotainment to fill each day. She is thrilled to get calls from potential guests who fit its requirements.
Relish the Ripple Effects
And here’s the most important point. If you appear on enough shows, you will get better as a guest as you increase your exposure. You can enhance your Web site with material from and about your appearances or create a video compilation for show producers, who may now seek you out as a guest because they’ve heard and/or seen you somewhere.
Karen Melamed is partners with Barbara Wellner in MediaWise, which provides media coaching, TV booking basics, and media platform development for authors and experts. Melamed was a producer on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Wellner has been a TV executive and executive producer and was instrumental in starting up the F/X network. For more information: mediawise-consulting.com and 310/745-0304.