One night last month, I happened to be awake quite late and flipped on the television and started watching the movie Twister, which is about a group of storm chasers in Oklahoma and Kansas. The story is kind of simple, but fun, although for me the cinematography was nostalgically spectacular. I grew up in those wide-open farm flatlands where you can see for 100 miles on a clear day. The wide roads and Dairy Queen-type drive-ins featured in the movie took me back to a simple and comfortable time.
I remember thinking that as I get older, more and more is nostalgic because my past is getting longer and my future is getting shorter! It was a pleasant feeling, and I recall finding it odd to be moved by something from my past. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. Little did I know that I was about to really get my “nostalgia socks knocked off!” I was about to go back to where my television life all began. I was headed back to Chicago to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show for the first time in over seven years.
Now, I have known Oprah for many, many years. Despite the totally fabricated fantasies that you read in the tabloid rags about my relationship with Oprah, the truth is, we are great and dear friends, as well as close business associates. She and Robin are great friends, and both Jay and Jordan have grown up with Oprah in their lives. Outside of my family, there are few people in this world who are more important to me than Oprah. To this day, I have trouble putting into words how she has changed my life and that of my family. But although we have always stayed personally connected, I had not been back to the stage where it all started.
So, a few weeks ago, off I went. Like so many times before, I packed a suit and flew to Chicago to do her show. I thought you might like to know what I was thinking and feeling, so I actually made some notes along the way.
I landed and was driven to the very same hotel in downtown Chicago (my home away from home) — in fact, into the very same room — where I had stayed during my five years of doing the show. (At that point, I thought about how I was doing what probably 8,000 to 10,000 guests on my show have done. Interesting role reversal.) I got out of the car and the same bellman who was there seven-and-a-half years ago said, “Welcome back, Dr. Phil.” Talk about stability. I have to say, I was feeling like I had been there just last week.
I dumped my bags and headed off to one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Wow, Cathy was still there at the front desk and hadn’t aged a day! We had had a running joke, she hadn’t forgotten. Without missing a beat she said, “Hey, get in here and we will put the feedbag on you.” She did! Then, back to hotel to prep for the show and off to bed. So strange how the pattern kicked in like autopilot.
At 7:00 a.m., we turned onto Carpenter Street and pulled up to Oprah’s famous Harpo Studios. Wow, all of a sudden, I had this powerful feeling of coming home.
Inside, so many friends from days gone by. Good folks. But the one person I did not see on arrival was Oprah herself. I knew I wouldn’t see her before the stage. She taught me long ago to not to EVER see your guests before the show so you are both fresh when things get underway.
The real nostalgia kicked in when I stepped into what had been my “quiet zone” for five years of Oprah shows. There’s a long, wide hallway outside the studio where the show is actually shot, and at the end of that hallway are big, thick metal doors. It was in this hallway that I had always had my alone time; time to totally shut out the rest of the world and focus on the important work ahead. Without ever talking about it, Oprah’s staff never engaged me once I stepped into that hallway. It was my place and my time, then and now.
I realized that they had suddenly, as if on cue, disappeared. They still remembered that I needed my time in that hallway. They knew I needed to step into that zone. Now, the feelings were powerful. I swear, it was like I had never been gone: I am in the moment, ready to go. The assistant stage manager steps in. Eye contact; time to go.
I walked through the metal doors and saw a newly refurbished stage. But incredibly, the aroma of the stage area was the same. Everything, in fact, felt the same. And there was Oprah, standing up, waiting to greet me. The producers played a taped piece of some of the more memorable moments during my appearances on her show over the years, and I was so overwhelmed.
In a flash, however, I was beside Oprah. To the world, she’s the most powerful figure in television – a clarion voice for all things good. But to me, she’s my great friend. And just like that, it was like two friends talking about the most interesting times in which we live. She’s the best there ever was or will be.
And what did we talk about? As Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story, tune in to Oprah. You will not be disappointed.