As President of Station Operations for Fox Television, Dennis Swanson is not someone you’d expect to see on a CBS News show, yet there he was on “The Early Show.” The finale Wednesday of Oprah Winfrey’s syndicated TV show is such a big event that it transcends network boundaries.
In what was no doubt his best hire ever, Swanson, who was then General Manager of ABC O&O WLS-TV Chicago, picked Winfrey in 1983 to host a new daily talk show on the station. She had already worked in TV in Nashville and Baltimore, but the Chicago show was her break into the big time.
The rest is history, Chicago loved Oprah and Oprah loved her adopted city, using it as the platform from which to launch what is now a media empire. And while “The Oprah Winfrey Show” wraps up its syndication run on Wednesday (5/25), Winfrey’s Harpo Studios is still based in Chicago and she’s working on new projects for her cable network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, which is a 50/50 venture with Discovery Communications.
In the CBS interview, Swanson said he was certain as he watched her audition that he wanted to hire Winfrey. “This woman is awesome,” he said in recalling that day. “I just thought this person is just a natural television performer and there’s no way we can miss with her.”
In a move that proved to be the correct one, “I told her I didn’t want to change a thing,” Swanson said. “I wanted the hairdo, the clothes, the weight, everything – I wanted her just as she was.” And Swanson said he had no difficulty agreeing to Winfrey’s insistence that she do a solo show – no co-host.