I saw a story on Forbes last week, and I thought I'd dig into the details.
Today Jill Donovan is the Chief Executive Officer of Rustic Cuff, but back in 2004 she was a practicing lawyer, with a lot of hobbies, and with one overwhelming desire - to get onto the Oprah Winfrey show. From Donovan's perspective, the whole thing sounded like a fun time.
But Donovan didn't realize how TV works. TV's idea of fun might not be the same as a potential guest's idea of fun.
Donovan didn't realize this when she discovered a sure-fire way to realize her dream of being on Oprah.
One day, while working on a divorce case, Donovan’s mind began to wander, and she checked Winfrey’s website, where the producers were looking for people who re-gifted. Donovan happened to have a closet at home filled with slippers, purses, hats and bracelets — years’ worth of stuff from birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, all ready to be re-wrapped. In a habit she got from her mother, she had been a self-described “chronic re-gifter” since childhood.
“It’s perfect,” Donovan thought. “That’s my backdoor.”
So she contacted Oprah's show, and her story must have impressed the producers, because she was invited to be on the air. And I'm sure that Oprah's people were really really nice to her. The day came, and she was in the studio, chatting with Oprah, and things were going great.
Then Oprah said something that would change the next several years of Jill Donovan's life.
“Let’s ask the etiquette experts.”
All of a sudden, Oprah and Jill were joined by several other people who expressed their views on Donovan's regifting practice. Here's the way that Oprah described what happened next.
What the Experts Say
Kim Izzo, etiquette columnist: Well I hate to say it, but, yes, it is rude. It seems like a twisted form of recycling. You can absolutely pass it on, but be open about it. Do it in the moment. Don't reroute it! I would just never pretend that I bought something.
After that, another expert chimed in, saying that the practice was not only rude, but also tacky.
The producers got their wish, and ended up with a compelling show that people would talk about. And to be fair, Oprah isn't the only one who does this - there are a ton of shows that are really, really nice to potential guests until they surprise them on the air. But after the taping was done, Jill Donovan left Oprah's studio and went home, embarrassed in front of a national audience. I have never been embarrassed in front of a national audience, but I doubt it is a fun experience.
It certainly wasn't for Jill Donovan.
Four or five years went by, and Donovan didn’t quite seem like the same person. She didn’t smile as often. Didn’t crack as many jokes. The old gift closet sat empty, everything thrown away or given to charity after she got back from taping the show in Chicago.
And somehow, deep inside Donovan, there was a place that felt as empty and bare as those shelves — a place that believed what the experts had said about her. She was rude and tacky and ashamed.
“I went into hiding creatively,” Donovan says.
As it turned out, JIll Donovan snapped out of it, and today is a successful entrepreneur. And Oprah Winfrey herself has been photographed wearing Jill Donovan's Rustic Cuffs.
Scott Amedure wasn't so lucky.
Scott Amedure wasn't a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show - he was a guest on the Jenny Jones show. He was obsessed with daytime talk shows, and agreed with Jenny Jones' producers to appear on a "secret crush" show, in which he would confess his love for his secret crush.
That's when Jenny Jones' producers contacted Jon Schmitz.
A gregarious waiter at the Fox and Hounds restaurant in the tony Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Schmitz, 24, had been told by producers that he had a secret admirer who would step forward on the syndicated Jenny Jones Show. Although he had balked the first time a Jones staffer had called, coworkers persuaded Schmitz to take a chance: Last fall he had split with his fiancée (a woman whose name has been withheld by his family), and he was eager to start a new relationship. Before leaving for Chicago, he spent $300 on new clothes in hopes of impressing his admirer.
Again, I'm sure that Jenny Jones' producers had been very nice to Schmitz as he prepared to meet the woman of his dreams. But Schmitz wasn't prepared for the fact that his secret admirer turned out to be a man.
No, Schmitz was not prepared for this at all.
Three days later, Jon Schmitz murdered Scott Amedure.
Amedure was dead, Schmitz ended up in prison (and could be released some time between August 2017 and December 2037), and Jenny Jones wasn't smiling when she had to testify in court.
So that's the story with televison - you never know what the producers are planning.
If you'd like to read a behind the scenes account of these shows, read this piece from someone who once lived in Chicago and attended both Jenny Jones AND Oprah Winfrey tapings.
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