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Name and title: William L. Becker, general counsel and vice president Age: 65 Oprah’s empire: In 1988, television talk show host and actress Oprah Winfrey broke away from the ABC television network, where she had hosted a morning program for four years, to create her own Harpo Studios, a TV production facility just west of downtown Chicago that became the venue for the Oprah Winfrey Show (which continued to be distributed through ABC). That studio was the first piece of what would become the sprawling, Chicago-based Harpo Inc., a corporate empire that employs 950 full-time and part-time workers, mainly in Chicago. Winfrey is the sole proprietor of Harpo, which holds the intellectual property or trademark and copyright rights for her overall brand. As Winfrey’s popularity has soared, Harpo has grown to include Harpo Radio, which owns the trademarks behind production of the Oprah & Friends radio show; Harpo Print, which operates a joint venture with Hearst Corp. to publish O magazine; and Harpo Films, which backs production of television movies for ABC. Harpo’s realm also includes the Oprah.com Web site and a joint venture with the Discovery Channel called OWN Inc. (for Oprah Winfrey Network) that will devote a cable channel to Winfrey’s programming by next year. Legal team: Becker runs a legal department staff of 25 people, including two associate general counsel — DaVida Rice, who works for Harpo Productions and focuses on new television program development, and Bernard Gugar, who oversees Harpo’s acquisitions, financial deals and joint ventures. Staff attorney Carol Michaels handles intellectual property matters and Charles Gardner keeps tabs on radio and Federal Communications Commission issues. Heather Summey is director of legal and business affairs. Elizabeth Yore is a special counsel on a project, to be unveiled later this year, that will follow up on a Winfrey show campaign to target sexual predators. During the past several years, Winfrey offered $100,000 to anyone providing information leading to the capture of FBI-designated predators, and actually nabbed a few. Winfrey wanted to build on that success, and tapped Becker to spearhead an effort that will seek legislation and craft efforts to thwart predators’ use of the Internet. Becker’s team also includes paralegals, administrators and “clearance coordinators,” who seek permission from studios, publicists and other sources to use copyrighted items that appear on the show. “We try to be very sensitive to make sure that we have vetted everything that is said — and when you’re doing live television that’s nearly impossible,” Becker said. Outside counsel: Becker declined to name the outside law firms that Harpo uses on a regular basis; Winfrey is “very sensitive about promoting anything at all,” he said. He did say that the company uses two firms, one each in New York and Chicago, to handle labor and employment issues. Another two firms in those cities handle intellectual property issues. Litigation counsel is provided by a Houston firm, while a Washington-based firm provides counseling on constitutional law and FCC issues and a Chicago-based firm advises on real estate matters. The company spends less than $50,000 annually on outside firms unless there’s a big case, and outsources probably about 10 percent of its legal work. “When I interview outside counsel, if they come in here with four lawyers and try to tell me why they’re special, they probably won’t get the job,” Becker said. “Why? Because I look at staffing, and I don’t mind paying $500 an hour as long as I’m going to talk to God, but if I’m going to be charged $500 an hour because three associates together spent hours researching an issue and I’m getting the memo that comes out of three associates’ research, I’m offended,” he said. Daily duties: “This job is exciting in a new way every day,” Becker said. He credits his boss. “Because she’s a creative butterfly we never know where she’s going to land.” On a given day, Becker might weigh in on whether something to be aired on the show could raise FCC concerns, the legal issues that come up when Oprah.com links to other Web sites, or labor issues involving Harpo Films. This year he helped set up an Oprah-themed retail store in Chicago. He also might mull over a personal business issue for Winfrey or fend off the sort of unwanted attention — including criminal threats — that a celebrity sometimes attracts. “Much of what I do is triage — making a decision about what has to be done immediately because of either legal risk or running the business, and what can be put off and what can be delegated and what do I have to do myself,” Becker said. Route to present position: Winfrey contacted Becker in the late 1980s, when she was setting up Harpo and needed a lawyer with entertainment and labor experience. Becker, who had worked on labor union issues and with television and radio entities as well as the Chicago White Sox and Bulls professional baseball and basketball teams, confessed that he didn’t know who Winfrey was when he received the invitation to meet with her. At the time, Becker was the managing partner at the Chicago law firm now known as Laner Muchin Dombrow Becker Levin and Tominberg. Today, he doesn’t remember what he and Winfrey talked about during their meeting, except that she liked his green and orange striped tie. Winfrey, whose company had five employees then, hired him to work on labor issues. Eventually, Becker started handling more Harpo legal matters and agreed in 2004 to work for two days per week at the company. In January 2005, he shifted to of counsel status at his law firm and moved full-time to Harpo as “special counsel for corporate affairs,” becoming general counsel in May 2005. Becker has been working with Winfrey for so long that he doesn’t get caught up in the phenomenon of her celebrity anymore. “In terms of dealing with her as a person, I’ve been doing that so long, she’s just a very great person and a good client,” Becker said. Personal: Becker is single and has one daughter, who is a television producer in New York. He loves to travel and counts a safari in southern Africa among his journeys. Last book and movie: “Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace,” by Cathleen Falsani; and “No Country for Old Men.”

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