Oprah Winfrey has has been the source of many iconic television moments over the last decade (ahem, Tom Cruise). But arguably the all-time unforgettable moment she has given us is the infamous “you get a car!” bit.
It was back in 2004 and Oprah wanted to kick off the 19th season of her show with a bang, and what better way to do that than to give a bunch of cars away to her audience?
According to the Making Oprah: The Inside Story of a TV Revolution podcast, Oprah’s BFF Gayle King sat next to an executive from the Pontiac car company, After much discussion, Pontiac ultimately struck up a deal to gift a brand new car to the 267 studio audience members attending Oprah’s show.
After much behind-the-scenes work – which included subtly finding audience members who genuinely needed new cars via cheeky survey questions -, the “you get a car!” moment was born and the internet was gifted one of the all-time great memes.
But as it turns out, Oprah’s free gift wasn’t exactly, uh, “free.”
The show paid the sales tax and registration for each of the 267 cars but not the “gift tax,” which is a “complicated” but legit “thing” according to producer Lisa Erspamer.
This meant everyone who received a car from Oprah had to pay tax on it and it wasn’t cheap either as it cost audience members up to $7,000USD (about $10,400AUD) depending on their tax bracket. Unsurprisingly, people weren’t too happy that their “free” car was going to set them back several thousand dollars.
The show’s producers tried to smooth things over by offering audience members to choice of taking cash for the car if they didn’t want to pay the gift tax, but that didn’t stop some ungrateful people from having a whinge to the press about it.
Not only did Oprah and her team had to deal with disgrunted (and greedy) audience members after her little car giveaway, Erspamers says producing shows after that episode was tough because everyone wanted cars after that.
So next time you happen to be a studio audience member for a TV show and you get gifted a free car, it’s almost certainly too good to be true. And if you get the option to take the cash if you don’t want to pay sales tax, just take it and be grateful, unlike Oprah’s audience members.