"We had no idea who she was going to pick," Molly McNearney, one of the head writers on Kimmel (and the host's wife), tells TV Guide Magazine. "It was a rapid fire decision. There wasn't much thought into it. I spoke with Oprah at commercial right before we came back and she had no idea who she was going to pick. She hadn't even looked in the audience yet. But then a light came up, she could see the crowd and then just pointed her magical finger at one lucky woman."
That woman's name is Britney, a school teacher studying for her masters' degree in Iowa, but visiting her parents for the summer in Torrance, Calif. "I'm so happy that she picked someone that, as we now learned, is a great person," McNearney says. "If Oprah is going to gift you with something like that, I hope you're a good, decent person. And she desperately needed a new car. Apparently this girl Britney had a truck that keeps breaking down."
McNearney says the Kimmel team came up with the idea of giving away the car as a gag on Winfrey's infamous "You get a car!" moment on her old TV show. "We came up with the idea of her giving away one car, and she loved it," McNearney says. "She liked the idea that she was overcome with this affliction, and that she had to shake it out of her system. She just wanted to randomly select someone. So she did."
Securing a car for the bit was surprisingly easy. Kimmel co-executive producer Doug DeLuca, who handles the show's sponsor partnerships, made a call to Ford and mentioned the name "Oprah Winfrey." Done. Says McNearney: "I think if you use Oprah's name you can get whatever you want. Oprah wants to give away a car? 'Great, take it.' It was their most expensive model. 'Fantastic.'"
McNearney was also pleased with Britney's enthusiastic reaction — something that could have gone either way. "You know there's a few a--holes in every audience," she jokes. "It could have really sucked. We have given away cars in the past and reaction has not been as awesome."
As for Winfrey (on Kimmel to promote Lee Daniels' The Butler), McNearney calls the star's visit "magical." "We're delighted that she trusts us, particularly with comedy," she says. And Jimmy Kimmel, who once mocked Winfrey in his Man Show days, long ago fell under her spell. "He loves her," McNearney says. "He was weeping in her movie. I was definitely crying heavily but he was crying as well. He was just more secretive. But I know that wasn't a cough. He was choked up."