Carl Quintanilla’s ‘Oprah Effect’
is missing one thing: Oprah

          Posted: Saturday, May 30, 2009

Carl Quintanilla's report on "The Oprah Effect" looked assuredly, in the first nine minutes, like a bomb.

But it's not.

Yes, we're surprised at that conclusion too.

An overwhelming problem is that Quintanilla has no comment, let alone an interview, with Winfrey herself about this production, making it look initially like CNBC is junior-grade television shamelessly profiling for ratings celebrities that won't give them the time of day (yes, the same has been said about CNBCfix, so we empathize).

But quite simply, there are some good stories here.

The first nine minutes are a montage of old Oprah footage that looks like something out of "Entertainment Tonight." Producers must've sensed this, because a commercial break after only nine minutes of an hourlong CNBC TV program is extremely quick.

Once Quintanilla moves on to the entrepreneurs, a story arc materializes. And it's intriguing. These are people already doing something right and making a living, it's important to note, but who haven't yet hit the jackpot with a breakthrough product. All did it the same way — a mention on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Now, they got it differently. An unstated conclusion that Quintanilla fails to make is that one gets mentioned by Oprah in two ways: 1) get lucky and have someone connected to her show like your product, or 2) relentlessly ship your materials to people at the show and hope they finally notice.

Three businesses are extensively profiled. Two were already well-established before the Oprah mention. Lisa Price founded Carol's Daughter and apparently had clients such as Halle Berry and Jada Pinkett Smith before Oprah even took notice. Jon Bresler and Vincent LaRouche, operators of LAFCO, boast clientele that includes Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, although it's not clear if those came after Oprah. (LAFCO was certainly helped by the promotion of its beautiful manager, Malachy O'Hara.)

Those stories are interesting. The third case is the best human-interest tale. Lori Karmel was running out of a strip mall what seems like a fairly obscure pastry business, "We Take the Cake," based in the Fort Lauderdale area. Apparently someone connected to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was a customer and happened to like the cake. Karmel said she had five employees at the time, then she got a call from Oprah's staff in 2005. "She put us on the map," Karmel said, and now it's a grand enterprise with a celebrity cake-decorator.

Despite being touted as a "CNBC Original," in fact this program — like the Melissa Francis feature on the Kentucky Derby — is the work of Bill Kurtis' fine cable TV documentary production company. Like Francis, Quintanilla's role seems to be on location at Carol's Daughter for five minutes to deliver a couple of soundbites.

We think Kurtis' production, despite the interesting stories, is a disappointment this time, namely for one reason — these ridiculous staged re-creations of how the staff at each company responded once their product(s) were featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." You see people pretending to work the phones and scurrying about as though the Oprah mention had just happened, and it looks silly.

Certainly Quintanilla and Kurtis' team could've better filled the time with authors and others pushing medical causes, etc., on Oprah who have gotten a lift from the show.

One consultant, Susan Harrow, is profiled. Now this is a good gig. She charges $500 an hour (her book costs $99) to assist people in getting themselves promoted on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." She claims her work not only helps her clients, but helps "Oprah's people" by making the pitches they receive Oprah-quality. "It takes a lot to be at the level of Oprah," she says. It is a lapse by Quintanilla not to mention whether Harrow herself has ever managed to get on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

And apparently, she never has been, according to her reaction in this article on Harrow by PJ Bremier of the Marin Independent Journal. (To the credit of Bremier and Harrow, this article is very extensive with plenty of free advice from Harrow. ... But wait, we discovered later, it came with a catch. According to this description by Harrow herself, Bremier somehow couldn't write the Harrow-on-Oprah article she wanted to do without an invented angle, so she came up with this: "Marin residents are innovators when it comes to green home and garden products, organic skin-care lines and healthful lifestyle ideas. What would it take for one of them to get on Oprah?" ... And then Harrow herself explains how "We also needed to make it pertain to people in Marin County..." We? Starting to sound less like a news article and more like a press release. But give Harrow credit, she is crafty, and if you're desperate to get on Oprah's show, perhaps she has better credentials than we thought. Who knows, maybe she's even capable of getting CNBCfix on Oprah, but we won't let her engineer our articles.)

Quintanilla turns to a couple advertising gurus when he doesn't have to, for needless commentary to justify a program that should be able to stand on its own entrepreneurial profile merits. James Lou of DDB Chicago says that being mentioned by Oprah brings "tangible business results," for those not quite absorbing the rest of the program.

The profile of Robyn Okrant at the end of the program unfortunately conveys the sense this is a dated production. Okrant explains that she is spending an entire year living life as recommended by Oprah — the books, the products, the meditation, dieting, etc. The bigger issue is that she blogs on it, a clever idea that she "estimates" snagged about 10,000 readers a week (an impressive level many sites, ahem, would love to reach, although there's no "estimate" about it, there actually are programs that precisely track these things that everyone pretty much has). At some point it becomes clear the year in question is 2008, and that Kurtis' crew is following her to a Celine Dion concert (with unhappy-looking escort) in December. One's immediate reaction to Okrant is to say "Get a life," but when she starts modeling Oprah-inspired clothes and products including a fire pit she can't use, it is kind of funny. Okrant says it cost her $4,000 to buy the Oprah-touted products, "a lot of it's on books." But she did say her blogging landed her a book deal (hey, we're ready and willing to do the story of Dylan Ratigan's CNBC exit), so congrats to her.

Not many males are probably going to watch this show, but you know what, Donny Deutsch would probably agree, there is no reason for males not to watch. These are good entrepreneurial stories for everyone that just happen to involve female-centric products. Yes, one element clearly missing is a profile of Spanx, which is noted as having an Oprah mention and has a very attractive founder in Sara Blakely, but Deutsch gave so much air time to her on his CNBC show that Quintanilla probably figured enough already for her brand. We don't know what they are, but it's a funny-sounding name and would've been a good profile here. The New York Times wrote in April about "The Oprah Effect" on bra sizes, but that angle wasn't covered by Quintanilla.

Quintanilla's production will probably result in a temporary sales blip for the businesses profiled. It figures to air on CNBC for a year or more, but doesn't feel like it has the draw of David Faber's "House of Cards" or Trish Regan's "Marijuana Inc." Not without an appearance from the Queen of Talk herself.

Other reviews of "The Oprah Effect":

Maureen Ryan, The Watcher/Chicago Tribune: "Most interesting part of these case studies is how each firm responded to the wave of sales."

iVillage: "Personally, nine times out of ten when Oprah mentions something, I check it out."

Entertainment Weekly blog: "What senseless stuff has Oprah hypnotized you into purchasing?"

"The Oprah Effect" (2009)

Featuring: Oprah Winfrey, James Lou, Abbey Klaassen, Janice Peck, Lisa Price, Lori Haram, Steve Stoute, Halle Berry, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rashne Desai, Lori Karmel, Vicki Segal, Dominique Beckers, Danna La Fever, Lauren Mallard, Susan Harrow, Jon Bresler, Vincent LaRouche, Malachy O'Hara, David Bowie, Penelope Cruz, Gwen Stefani, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Robyn Okrant

Correspondent: Carl Quintanilla
Executive producer: Bill Kurtis
Executive producer: Donna LaPietra
Executive producer: Sharon Barrett
Producer: Bridget Sarno
Editor: Katerina Simic
Editor: David Sarno
Production manager: Katie Bryan
Associate producer: Dana McClellan
Camera: Seth Henrikson, Darryl Miller, Oral User, Bryan Sarkinen
Assistant editor: Suzanne Johns
Field audio: David Mendez, Joel Sartori, David Huizenga, Thomas Byrd
Audio director/original music: David Huizenga
Post-production audio: Brian Leitner
Post-production manager: Matt Greif
Production assistant: Adina Kwasigroch
Executive producer: Charles Schaeffer
Producer: Kevin Kane
Chief photographer: Angel Perez
Senior producer, on-air promotion: Lisa Wernick
Vice president, strategic planning: Raymond Borelli
Senior Web producer: Pat Fastook
Managing editor: Tyler Mathisen
Coordinating producer: Jamie Corsi
Creative director: Victoria Todis
Senior graphics animator/designer: Jackie Dessel

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