FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is News & Notes. Ratings for her daytime show are down, her magazine circulation numbers are falling, and a poll shows her popularity just isn't what it used to be. Is Oprah paying a price for publicly supporting Barack Obama's presidential campaign?

Plus, Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for "Dream Girls," so why did she take a small part in a big film? Plus, Laurence Fishburne gets a Tony Award nomination for his portrayal of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. To help us talk about these issues, we've got our entertainment guru, Allison Samuels of Newsweek Magazine. How're you doing?

Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (National Correspondent, Newsweek Magazine): Good. How are you?

CHIDEYA: You look fabulous because we're on camera. But it's a webcast, so we're working things out. So, good thing we both look fresh and smiling.

Ms. SAMUELS: OK, yeah, always.

CHIDEYA: Anyway, let's talk about Oprah, her TV show, her magazine, popularity in general taking a hit? Do you think it's because she picked a candidate in this race?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think, that's probably partially what it is. I mean, she does have a very mainstream audience of women, who - a lot of them supported Hillary Clinton, so I'm sure that has something to do with it. But I also take it just a sign of the time. I mean, she's been dominant for a very long time, and you know, there comes a time when that ends, or it certainly begins to fall off a little bit, and I sort of think it's a combination of both.

I don't think it's just her support of Obama, because if you think about it, she really has not really been out there supporting him since January. She did her thing and she pretty much stepped away from it. But I think that when you combine that with the fact that she's dominated for 20 years, and Ellen now is sort of the popular person with all the celebrity guests, I just think it's time to pass the mantle on some level.

CHIDEYA: Oprah can pass the mantle anytime and still be a billionaire.

Ms. SAMUELS: Definitely.

CHIDEYA: And an entrepreneur, multimedia business owner. Nonetheless, if you are that good at something, it's got to sting a little bit, doesn't it?

Ms. SAMUELS: See, I don't think it does. I think that Oprah is at a point in her career and in her life where she's done what she wants to do. I think that that's why she felt comfortable coming out for Obama, because I think she understood that that might affect her ratings. I think, she felt like, you know what? This - I've succeeded far beyond anybody's expectations, so now I can take a stand and take the hit, if there is one to come. So, I think she's fine with it. I think she is looking forward to her next, you know, sort of you know, plateau, on, like, where she goes from here.

CHIDEYA: So, there have been cases where people have criticized her for not following Christian doctrine, because she promotes spiritual authors like Eckhart Tolle. People will criticize her for any number of reasons...

MS. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: And we all have reasons to pick or choose one media person over another. But where do you think she'll go from here? She has incredible resources.

MS. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Where do you see her in the next ten years?

Ms. SAMUELS: I can see her doing - I mean, I know one of the things that she told me when I interviewed for her school in South Africa is that she really wanted to spend much more time there. She wanted to actually build a house, and I think she is building a house on the property, and she wanted to live there.

So, I can just sort of see her just slowly getting out of the spotlight, because, I mean, that's - she's had a 20-year run at just being always on the front page, and people always around her, and media always there. I mean, I think, at this point, she would just would like to take a break for a minute, produce, you know, sort of help other people, but I'm not sure that she wants that in front of the camera thing for - in the next ten years. I'm not sure that's where she wants to be.

CHIDEYA: All right, speaking in front of the camera. We've got Jennifer Hudson. She won an Academy Award for "Dream Girls." But now, she's got a role as Carrie Bradshaw's assistant in "Sex and the City." Some folks are saying, oh, that's beneath you, honey. What do you think?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, it was beneath her, but I sort of feel like, even more so, it was a very clumsy - she was a very clumsy addition to it. She didn't really fit in the movie, when I saw it. I felt like you know, someone like Kelly Rowland, or someone with the - you know, not as big as a profile as Jennifer would have been better. I also sort of feel as though, with Jennifer, though, as with the other African-American actress, it's going to be hard finding roles that equal "Dream Girls."

So, I think, you know, I didn't expect her to do anything huge after "Dream Girls." I think that's just sort of the name of the game. When you're an African-American actress, you take what you can get. And this is a big film. It's a small role, but it's in a huge movie that will probably do incredibly well. I just thought she was ill-fitted. I didn't think she belonged in it.

CHIDEYA: Kelly Rowland, you mentioned her name, Destiny's Child.

MS. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: She basically said she wanted the part.

MS. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: What do you think she would have done with it?

Ms. SAMUELS: I just think it would have been less awkward in the sense of - Jennifer has a presence that's overwhelming, and it didn't really make sense for her to have such a small role. Now, part of it is that I just think the movie itself, and "Sex and the City," had ignored African-Americans for the entire run on TV, and it just felt like, OK, let's just throw one in now, because, you know, we don't want to hear any sort of criticism.

So - but Kelly, I think, would have brought that sort of, you know, it-girl kind of quality to it, because she's a fashionista, and I don't look at Jennifer Hudson in the same way. I don't get that from her. So, that's why I thought it was a really awkward fit. But you know, Kelly, you know, she didn't have she didn't have an acting background. And I think they went for the name and for the Oscar. And that's obviously Jennifer.

CHIDEYA: So let's talk about Tony nominations. There are so many musicals with non-white characters or actors that got a huge number of the nominations, and tell us about some of those.

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, the interesting part is - the ones that got it, but also the ones that not - like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" with - it - Debbie Allen, you know, actually directs, and Phylicia Rashad and Terrence Howard. I think a lot of people were shocked that that didn't get any nominations whatsoever. I was sort of shocked, too. I thought, you know, Debbie, at least, would get a nomination, or Terrence, who's, you know, phenomenal. But I think Laurence Fishburne for "Thurgood," you know, got - won for Best Actor and I saw it.

CHIDEYA: We have to mention...

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: You have a family relationship.

Ms. SAMUELS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he's my - yeah, first cousin.

CHIDEYA: Not that that means that's why you love him.

Ms. SAMUELS: No, no, and...

CHIDEYA: He's one of my favorite actors.

Ms. SAMUELS: He's amazing, and in this one-man show, it's 90 minutes where he's on stage, just him, and he just carries it. He commands the stage, and I think that's an incredibly really hard thing to do. And he does it with ease. So I think him, as a Best Actor nomination, I can see that being sort of - I can see him winning it, because I think the critics really see that. When you're the only person on stage, that is very hard to sort of do. So I can sort of see him being sort of not shoe-in, but certainly the favorite.

CHIDEYA: What else are we seeing on Broadway in terms of, you know, people of color and nominations?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, Morgan Freeman is in "Country Girl" now. And I've not seen it, but I really want to see it because it's supposedly very, very good, and I - just to see him on Broadway, because I've never really thought of him as a Broadway actor, even though I know he's done theatre for a long time. But I've never seen that.

So I thinks that's sort of where the buzz is now, to actually go to Broadway and just see him on stage. Because I think you see actors in a totally different way when they're on stage and - it's them. You get the essence of who they are from that stage performance, and to see it be consistent every night, you know, because with Laurence, he does two or three performances on weekends.

And it's like - I'm just like, wow, I don't think I could do that, because it's such an intense portrayal and such a intense study of "Thurgood Marshall" that you're going, you know, for that 90 minutes, you have to just become that person and just blot all of yourself out. And I know as an actor, you have to do that, anyway, but on stage, you have no - there's no room for error.

CHIDEYA: When you think about how acting unfolds in American public life, there are a lot of people - most people who we know as actors, I mean, certainly who I know, are people who act in movies or television who we can see kind of as a big group of Americans.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: But theatre is something different. Theatre is smaller, more intimate, fewer people in the audience. What's the significance of still doing theatre even if you're a big Broadway - I mean, a big Hollywood star?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think it's the craft. I think theatre is the true craft of acting. And I think your best movie stars are ones who've started on stage. I mean, Denzel went back and did "Julius Caesar" a couple years ago. And I think it was just sort of to hone those skills, because that's something where you have to be on your own toes.

You have to - you're challenging yourself. You have to remember the lines. There's no cuts. There's no second chances. You have to get the first take. And I think for actors like Morgan Freeman or Denzel or Laurence Fishburne, it's that challenge, again, because I think movies and TV now becomes the same old, same old. And with stage, every night is a different night. It's the unknown.

CHIDEYA: What about the audiences? Do you think enough black people or a broad enough cross section are going to the theater?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, at "Thurgood" the other day was a very mixed audience, which I was really happy about. I think part of that is a Tony nominations. I mean, it definitely helps when you get a nomination like that, because then the buzz really becomes loud. And I think, you know, "Thurgood Marshall" was someone that, you know, African-Americans certainly have a special, you know, relationship with. But I was very happy with the mixture of the crowd.

CHIDEYA: Allison, as always, great to talk to you.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was Allison Samuels. She's the entertainment writer for Newsweek Magazine, and she joined us from our NPR Studios in Culver City, California.

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