CHICAGO—Television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, regarded by many as the most powerful woman in the media, has once again taken the TV industry by surprise with the success of her on-air Contraceptive Of The Month Club.
The much-hyped follow-up to her hugely successful Book Of The Month Club, the four-week-old Contraceptive Club has already prevented an estimated 450,000 unplanned pregnancies.
Just as some doubted that Winfrey would be able to convince her couch-bound, sub-literate viewers to read, many observers were skeptical that she could pull off the seemingly impossible task of explaining contraception to her working-class, constantly breeding audience.
"The response has been incredible," show producer Liz Frey said.
According to Frey, sales for last month's featured contraceptive device, the Leafbreeze(TM) Spermicidal Vaginal Sponge, more than quadrupled in the weeks following its selection.
During last month's special episode, the studio audience watched carefully and was uncharacteristically quiet as Winfrey explained, slowly and with no big words, the fundamentals of reproductive biology and family planning. In doing so, Winfrey exposed her largely white, female, unemployed, lower-middle-class audience to the concept of "pregnancy avoidance" for what was, in most cases, the first time in their lives.
"Oprah's right," said Shelley Collica of Jackson, MS, a longtime Oprah viewer and mother of seven. "I never looked at it quite this way before, but if you think about it, there's no reason that a woman has to be pregnant all the time."
Oprah's Contraceptive Club is being promoted not only on episodes of her show, but also on a series of 30-second tie-in ads featuring various housewives dancing around their living rooms to uptempo Motown music and giving the "thumbs up" sign while repeating the catchphrases "I'm Not Pregnant For The First Time, And It Feels Great!" and "Contraception Is A-Oprah-K!"
The club's success has been so overwhelming that many leading contraceptive manufacturers are clamoring to have their product be next month's featured selection.
"Sales of the 'female condom' have been disappointingly low, due largely to the public's perception of condoms as a 'male-identified' purchase item," said Lydia DeVos, a spokesperson for Dylex Pharmaceuticals, the company that first developed the female condom. "But since the vast majority of Oprah's viewers have never even heard of a condom in any form to begin with, we feel that a plug on her show could spark a major surge in our sales."
Public-relations executives from Trojan, Sheik and 'Phragmtastic! are also aggressively lobbying for selection by Winfrey's club.
With Winfrey's latest crusade another unqualified success, even the most skeptical concede that her power to get TV viewers to unflinchingly do whatever she tells them is virtually limitless. Among Winfrey's future ventures: an "Eating With A Knife And Fork Club"; a "Not Throwing Things On The Floor Club"; and, perhaps most ambitious of all, a Breathing With Your Mouth Closed instructional videotape.