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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Why Madonna is going on Oprah
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News

Madonna following her return to London from Malawi
Madonna is to tell Oprah why she decided to adopt David Banda
Millions of viewers are expected to tune in to the Oprah Winfrey Show to hear Madonna talk about her efforts to adopt a Malawian child.

It will be the first time the singer has spoken in depth about her decision - and her first chance to defend herself against the storm of criticism it has provoked.

She is expected to feature on other US talk shows in the coming days, in what appears to be a high-profile PR offensive.

Madonna is a big enough star to pick and choose where she appears. So why has she turned to the TV talk show platform to make her point?

If you hit the right spot you can then project that message through the blogosphere
Professor Bernard Timberg
East Carolina University

According to Bernard Timberg, author of the book Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show, the key is such programmes' ability to go straight to the heart of popular debate around the water cooler and on the internet.

"Anything that goes into the central psyche becomes magnified and becomes the talk of the day - and the next day," he says.

"If you hit the right spot you can then project that message through the blogosphere."

Crucially, the format also gives each guest a relatively long time in which to argue his or her case.

"If there is something controversial, as adopting a Third World child is, you cannot get your message across in a 15-second or 30-second news bite," says Prof Timberg, of East Carolina University.

"But you do get a chance to air it in a commercially-interrupted hour on Oprah."

Race issues

The Oprah Winfrey Show is the "gold standard" of television talk shows, Prof Timberg says, and so the obvious place for Madonna to start her campaign for hearts and minds.

Mel Gibson being interviewed by ABC presenter Diane Sawyer
A chastened Mel Gibson gave an interview to Good Morning America

Not only that, but Oprah's position as a high-profile African-American woman makes her the ideal interviewer in a debate that has been charged with issues of race.

Madonna is, of course, not the first to realise the advantages of the talk show platform in reaching out to a different audience than that reached by news media.

A week ago, Barack Obama, the only serving African-American senator, told Winfrey - and her many viewers - that if he decided to stand for the presidency in 2008 he would announce it on her show.

Winfrey - listed the 14th most powerful woman in the world this year by Forbes magazine - had already given the senator her public backing.

Earlier this month, Mel Gibson gave his first TV interview since his arrest for drink-driving and a subsequent anti-Semitic outburst to Diane Sawyer, on the news-oriented show Good Morning America.

Back in 2003, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger used NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to announce his candidacy for the California governorship.

Similarly, John Edwards first announced his intention to seek the 2004 Democratic nomination for the presidency on Jon Stewart's political programme, The Daily Show.

Sofa jumping

Of course, appearing on a talk show is not without its risks, as evidenced by the ridicule heaped on actor Tom Cruise after his appearance on Oprah in May last year.

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise's extravagant antics on Oprah left audiences bemused

His antics as he leaped around the set, jumped on the sofa and repeatedly declared his love for new girlfriend Katie Holmes, now his fiancee, left viewers bemused - and quickly entered television legend.

Cruise, a follower of Scientology, went on to attack actress Brooke Shields over her use of drugs to treat post-natal depression - culminating in an on-screen clash with presenter Matt Lauer on NBC's The Today Show in June 2005.

Unlikely as it seems, however, it was a talk show that eventually gave Cruise the means to rehabilitate his image this summer, when Shields went on Jay Leno's show to say she had received a "heartfelt apology" from him.

Not only did Cruise come out rosier, Prof Timberg says, but "it was the best thing that could have happened for mental health awareness and it gave her [Shields] a forum".

Madonna's message

However, despite the talk show's undeniable power, Madonna cannot expect an altogether easy ride on Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey
The power of Winfrey's show to reach huge audiences is clear

One viewer who has posted a comment on the show's blog voices a common theme among critics who fear Madonna's wealth allowed her to bypass Malawi's normal adoption laws.

"Why are these celebrities allowed to adopt children in 'record time' while us 'regular' folks go through years of hell?" the blogger asks.

As the media is dominated by reports in which the boy's father, Yohane Banda, says he did not know he had given away his son for good, it is these "regular folks" that Madonna must seek to win over.

The best thing Madonna can do is ask the press to leave her alone
Jeremy, Druffield

Reports ahead of the screening suggest she will speak of her surprise at the controversy and describe how Mr Banda "looked me in the eye" and thanked her for giving his son a future.

All eyes will be on Oprah to see if the singer succeeds in spreading her message.

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