On September 13th of 2004, Oprah Winfrey gave away 276 brand new cars to all the gasping members of her TV studio audience.
The cars were Pontiac G6 sedans. Each one was valued at $28,500. In the weeks before the episode aired, Oprah had asked the show's producers to fill the studio with people who desperately needed cars. At some point during the show, Oprah jumped up and down, waving a key ring and yelling, “Everyone gets a car! Everyone gets a car!” The whole studio audience screamed, cried, and / or flat out fainted.
According to a media expert, it was one of the greatest promotional maneuvers in television history.
What followed caused a stir, and some would consider it a scandal. The cars were not really a gift from Oprah. Pontiac had donated the cars, and paid for them out of its advertising budget. In fact, during the segment, Oprah was seen taking a tour of the Pontiac plant, gushing over the car's fancy new features. Pontiac also paid the state sales tax on the vehicles, but the new owners were still left with a debt. Federal and state income taxes tallied up to about six thousand dollars for most of the winners in the studio audience. Some winners paid these taxes by taking out auto loans. Others traded in their brand new Pontiacs for cheaper cars with fewer special features. One winner pointed out that it was not really a free car, but more like a 75 percent off car, which was still not such a bad deal.
On her next giveaway episode, aimed at the nation's teachers, Oprah gave out a washer and dryer, a TV set, a laptop, and a leather duffel bag to every member of the studio audience. But this time, the producers knew better. To cover any possible tax expenses, the producers also gave each studio audience member a check for $2,500.
Oprah's giveaways have earned her some of the highest ratings in the history of the Oprah Winfrey Show. So you see, they are not really gifts at all. They are promotional marketing ploys to raise TV viewer ratings. Not that it's a bad thing. Oprah eventually negotiated ownership rights to her show and started her own production company. Now she has her own TV network, called OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network).
How rich can this woman get?
Oprah is well known for her extreme wealth. Born in rural poverty to an unwed mother, Oprah was very poor as a child. However, she had the genes for success, and was born to be a media tycoon. While still in high school, she won a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee in an oratory competition. She also won the Miss Black Tennessee pageant. She was already a millionaire by the age of 32, when her talk show became nationally syndicated. No one can say she didn't work hard to earn what she has. These days, Oprah is a billionaire, and is known to be one of the nation's biggest givers.