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Porn History 101: Oprah’s Career Almost Ended By Having Seka, Veronica Hart, Kay Parker on Her Show

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from www.feder.blogs.chicago.timeout.com – Oprah Winfrey was still the new kid in town — just seven months on the air as host of A.M. Chicago — when she stumbled so badly it looked as if the local media might turn on her. It was a time when critics could actually criticize Oprah, and to her credit, she’d often respond directly.

In July 1984, Oprah welcomed three female porn stars to the show to talk about their business in a way that Chicago television viewers had never heard before.

P.J. Bednarski, TV critic of the Sun-Times, wrote a few days later: “The talk with Seka, Veronica Hart and Kay Parker was about orgasms, male endurance and the stars’ prowess offscreen. In the saddest portion, there was a discussion of what they called — on the air — the graphic, lovemaking ‘money shot.’ That got a lot of laughs. Oprah Winfrey made two jokes about it.”

The discussion itself was even more explicit than Bednarski was able to describe in the newspaper. Extracting the sort of detail that would cost Howard Stern millions of dollars in fines from the FCC and force him to flee over-the-air broadcasting two decades later, Oprah displayed a stunning lack of discretion that day.

In a column headlined “When nothing’s off limit,” Bednarski observed: “The Ask-the-Porn Stars program, amazingly, carried not a minute of discussion in which Winfrey stated, asked or even worried that these X-rated stars were in fact, cheap hucksters, talentless, sleazy skin traders. She barely wondered if these films demeaned women. Instead, Winfrey asked: ‘Don’t you get sore?’ . . . For someone with the natural talent of Winfrey, it was telling evidence she’s got some growing up to do.”

Reaction to the show (which then, as now, aired at 9am weekdays) and Bednarski’s evisceration was immediate and intense. ABC 7 bosses privately worried whether they’d crossed a line with their new star even as her ratings were going through for the roof.

Today — more than 26 years later — Bednarski recalls that episode as a low point: “That show was a shock,” he told me the other day. “It was 1984 and having a porn star talk about the ‘money shot’ — when a guy ejaculates in her mouth — crossed several lines then, and I’d say, even now. As I remember it, Oprah didn’t act as shocked talking about pornography as you’d sort of think would be the ‘correct’ posture for a talk show host. Phil Donahue would be indignant. Oprah wasn’t.”

Shortly after that show aired, Oprah was called to account for it by the conscience of Chicago broadcasting, John Callaway, who invited her on his WTTW-Channel 11 program to address the criticism. That interview will be rebroadcast for the time at 7:30pm this Tuesday on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. (Another Callaway interview with Oprah from February 1984 will be rerun at 7:30pm Monday.)

Though on the defensive, Oprah acquitted herself admirably with Callaway. “She was a lot of people, but one thing she never seemed to be was scared,” Bednarski would recall. “You know that saying, ‘Never let them see you sweat’? She just seemed to glide into becoming a legend.”

It would take Oprah until well into the ’90s before she’d finally swear off the sensational and exploitative topics that hers and other tabloid talk shows of the era were known for. Cynics called it as much a move to retain skittish advertisers as it was a genuine act of conscience. In any case, it paid off in every way imaginable.

Bednarski, who went on to become editor of Electronic Media and executive editor of Broadcasting & Cable, now lives between New York and Philadelphia, and writes for tvnewscheck.com among other sites. He’s also working on a book of short stories.

Reflecting on Oprah during her early days in Chicago, he said: “I remember shortly after she began, we went out to lunch and walked back to the station down Michigan Avenue. She stopped to window shop at a shoe store that was near the old Woolworth’s where Saks is now. There was nothing so amazing about it, except to think how impossible that would have been to do probably two years later.”

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