There’s an added benefit to doing an Oprah Winfrey Network show: You might meet Oprah Winfrey.
Well, maybe not a three-dimensional, in-person Oprah, during this social-distancing era. But there’s her image, talking to you on your computer screen.
“It was like some angel landed in the Zoom,” said Maahra Hill (shown here), who has the title role in “Delilah,” at 9 p.m. Tuesdays (starting March 9) on OWN.
Jill Marie Jones, who co-stars, recalled the first such Zoom call: “She had her Oprah voice that was just so golden goodness. And then she said my name in her Oprah voice and I just died.”
Winfrey has conquered many worlds, from daytime talk to occasional forays into movies and (with her Meghan-and-Harry interview) primetime CBS. But launching an entire cable network has been a challenge; after a decade, OWN is still only No. 55 in viewership, Nielsen says.
It has found some success, however, by occasionally detouring into scripted shows. There were five series from Tyler Perry, who has since moved to BET. (One of his shows, “The Haves and Have Nots,” remains, starting its final season May 25). And it has branched out to other producers.
“Ambitions” and “Love Is …” were canceled after one season apiece, but “Greenleaf” – set in a Black mega-church – had a five-season run and “Queen Sugar” (8 p.m. Tuesdays) is in its fifth season. “David Makes Man” – which has its second season this summer – won a Peabody. Award
Now comes a new effort from “Greenleaf” producer Craig Wright. “I was really excited to work outside the church and start to look at issues that were a little more secular and a little broader,” he said.
He and Winfrey wanted an idealist with a crowded life. That’s Delilah; she’s “empowered and strong-minded and has such a strong moral compass,” Hill said.
At work, she has a small law office. At home, she’s raising her daughter (a violin prodigy) and son, while nudging her ex-husband to pay child support. She added the son of her brother (a paraplegic, getting rehab at a Veterans Administration hospital) after the boy’s mother became distant.
“Delilah’s gonna take care of everybody,” Wright said. “And sometimes at her own detriment. Maybe her friends need to say, ‘Take it easy; take care of yourself sometimes.’”
Her prime relaxation is with her friend Tamara (played by Jones), said Devan Renea, a writer on the show. They “have had over two decades of friendship and are finding (it) now challenged.”
Tamara has become “the ‘token Negro’ at her law firm,” Jones said, using a phrase popularized by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. She’s representing a big-money company; Delilah represents an ex-employee, in a case that soon involves military secrets and a suicide that may be murder.
It’s a tough life, but it happens amid the beauty of Charlotte, N.C., a town that – like Atlanta – savors a “new South” image of multi-racial prosperity.
“I grew up in a small town outside of Charlotte,” said Charles Randolph-Wright, who produces the show with his brother Craig. “It is a city that has changed tremendously. (It) represents America in a new way.”
It’s a beautiful place to work, the actresses said … but being there means never seeing their boss in person. Winfrey is merely a face on Zoom and, recently, a voice on a phone call.
“I’ve been watching Oprah since ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ and ‘Super Soul Sundays’ and ‘The Color Purple,’” Hill said. Then came the unexpected call. “I was stumbling. I was like, What? Huh? Who?’”