News that thousands came out to see Oprah Winfrey at a Barack Obama rally over the weekend got me to thinking--is there a Canadian TV figure with that kind of clout?
As popular as Rick Mercer is (and over 1.2 million viewers tuned in to the Rick Mercer Report last Tuesday, the CBC comedy's highest rating ever), it is unlikely that the Newfoundland native would tip the scale for any one candidate. Certainly skinny dipping with him last year did nothing for Bob Rae's Liberal leadership hopes.
Brett Butt from Corner Gas has proved that a Canadian sitcom can sell on both sides of the border. But as a political warm up act, he'd probably not fill a Rogers video store, let alone the Rogers Centre.
Fact is, there is no equivalent to Oprah in America let alone in Canada. The lady can move books and magazines as well as viewers. The question is--can she move voters?
Have to admit I was skeptical when I first heard the queen of daytime TV was backing Obama. Celebrity endorsements seem to backfire as often as they connect. Is there a bigger kiss of death than getting an endorsement from Barbra Streisand? Republican candidate Mike Huckabee has Chuck Norris and Ted Nugent in his corner. Too bad he's not in a bar fight.
Winfrey, too, has been a punch line for so many years on David Letterman as well as in the tabloids that her political capitol would seem to be past its best before date. Still, there they were, as snow was falling, nearly 30,000 fans in a stadium in South Carolina. What you can not deny, in an era when the very word celebrity has been downgraded through dumb-ass reality shows and too many shallow heiress sightings, is that Winfrey is a star and that her star power is real.
The Illinois senator gets it. He joked that he would name Winfrey as his running mate, "but that would be a demotion--you realize that." She's already raised millions of dollars for the candidate at a privately held fundraiser.
There are suggestions that the Winfrey factor will backfire and that Obama will look desperate and opportunistic as the real primary dates draw near. Still, if you had a book to sell in a month or two, or a recipe, or a candidate--who would you want on your side? And if you don't think being a big shot celebrity can sway votes, two words:
Incidentally, Winfrey has a new ABC reality show in the offing: tentatively titled Oprah's Big Give. It's a reality show and part of a flood of replacement shows coming in January due to the on-going strike by the Writer's Guild of America (WGA). The premise has Oprah turning dreams into reality for needy families, sort of a cross between Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and, if anyone remembers this show, Queen For a Day.
Sounds wince-able. Look for ratings to go through the roof.