Image: Oprah Winfrey
George Burns  /  PR Newswire via Newscom
And you've won ... A NEW CAR. Oprah's annual "Favorite Things" episode has helped businesses of all sizes. Sometimes the resulting new orders are tough to handle.
By
updated 5/24/2011 7:25:35 AM ET 2011-05-24T11:25:35

When Sam Greenberg got the call in the fall of 2003, he was sitting in his office at the East Texas purveyor of smoked turkeys his father founded during the Great Depression. A producer from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was on the line to see if Greenberg would give 400 of his hickory-smoked fowl away to a studio audience. As they talked, Greenberg glanced out his window onto the sales floor and saw dumbstruck employees staring at him. One held up a sign that read: "Oprah's on line three."

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Winfrey got right to the point. "Can you handle it? Can you get the turkeys out?" Greenberg recalls her asking, eager to make sure the flood of attention wouldn't overwhelm him. Greenberg said he would, knowing full well what an introduction to millions of Oprah's diehard fans could mean for a company with a dozen full-time employees. "We'll be fine," he said. Then Winfrey asked to be transferred to someone who could take her own order; turns out she'd been buying Greenberg's turkeys ever since receiving one as a gift.

Greenberg Smoked Turkey of Tyler, Tex., was about to star on "Oprah's Favorite Things," an annual show that earned its own spoof on "Saturday Night Live" for all the shrieking from the audience when Winfrey showered them with gifts, from LG fridges to Volkswagen Beetles. For makers of the more than 160 products that have appeared on those shows, plus scores more that received even a passing nod on Oprah's website or in her magazine, it's like winning the Lotto.

It was brave of Greenberg to so blithely say he was ready for the Oprah Effect, that brief, bright bump that's become the Holy Grail of businesses everywhere. Despite selling about 150,000 birds a year, the company had no website and didn't accept credit cards. What's more, the show was 12 days away and the turkeys took four days to smoke. Greenberg first alerted existing customers that a surge in demand was coming, thanks to vaguely described media attention, and that they'd be wise to order now. Next, the company boosted production by 10,000 by squeezing more turkeys into its 20 smokehouses and running them 24/7. A makeshift website was built to take orders, though buyers could pay only by check.

Businessweek: Oprah's wide reach

On the big day, Winfrey raved about the turkey for 42 seconds and the company's 20 phone lines lit up. The business normally signed up 5,000 new customers annually. In the two weeks post-Oprah, 22,000 first-timers came calling at an average of $50 per order. The turkeys sold out by Dec. 10, a holiday season record. "To mention my product for 42 seconds and to sell $1 million worth of turkeys, that's a lot of power," says Greenberg. "Her endorsement is worth its weight in gold."

Some companies touched by Oprah got an instant lift that soon fizzled; others continue to enjoy the Oprah Effect to this day. For Greenberg, a link on Oprah.com prolonged the demand, generating 35,000 orders. The company now sells about 200,000 birds a year.

Businessweek: Brand Oprah has some marketing lessons

At Eco-Bags, which makes reusable grocery sacks, sales quadrupled, to $800,000, in the four months after the Ossining, N.Y., company was featured on a 2007 episode dedicated to Earth Day. After the show, it expanded its online store to offer other green items Winfrey endorsed, helping boost sales for a year and a half. The Oprah nod helped the company land a deal to make bags for Estée Lauder. "We had people calling up just saying, 'I want to go green,'" recalls founder Sharon Rowe, who suddenly was able to afford solar panels for her house and her son's college bills. "Oprah made green cool."

The story was different for John and Terri Stephen after their call in January 2001. The show wanted their Weemote, a child-friendly TV controller, for an episode on tech breakthroughs. The device had hit the market only nine months earlier, selling through catalogs and a few specialty stores. The Stephens had three employees, including themselves, and shipped from the garage of their Palmetto Bay, Fla., home. A few weeks later they got their 49 seconds of fame, and "we just stood there screaming," Terri says. "It was like the Super Bowl." Their website traffic surged eightfold, and people told them they'd made it.

Businessweek: Is cable one market Oprah can't conquer?

Not quite. They sold about 5,000 units online in the next three months, up from the couple hundred they normally sold that time of year. In the fall they sold 60,000 units to Target, but by then the attention had passed. "If we had it at retail, it would have given us so much lift we probably would have done quite well for a long, long time," says John. "It was a bit disappointing. You can't tell Oprah to wait."

The bottom line: Landing a spot on "Oprah's Favorite Things" show is every small company's dream. The inevitable sales bump could be difficult to manage.

Copyright © 2012 Bloomberg L.P.All rights reserved.

Photos: Oprah Winfrey

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  1. 'The Butler'

    Oprah Winfrey isn't just a talk-show host. Her acting has been critically acclaimed. She received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for playing the wife of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) in "The Butler" in 2013. (Anne Marie Fox / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. YOU get a thank you, and YOU get a thank you...

    Winfrey acknowledges fans during a star-studded taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," in Chicago on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. Her famed talk show went off the air after 25 years as Winfrey moves to her OWN network. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Honor from Hizzoner

    In one of his last acts before leaving office, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley presents Winfrey with a sign after a street was named in her honor outside her Harpo Studios in Chicago on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Presidential visitors

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are pictured with Winfrey during a taping of one of her last shows in Chicago on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Winfrey memorably cried tears of joy when Obama was elected. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. On her OWN

    Winfrey, chairman of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, announces the new original programming for the channel's Jan. 1, 2011 launch to members of the advertising and media communities on Thursday, April 8, 2010 in New York. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Going Gaga

    Oprah Winfrey wears sunglasses and holds a hair bow given to her by Lady Gaga, left, after a live broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on Friday, Jan. 15, 2010 in Chicago. (George Burns / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Backed by Oprah

    Executive producers Tyler Perry, right, and Oprah Winfrey walk the red carpet at the AFI Fest 2009 gala screening of their new film "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" in Hollywood on Nov. 1, 2009. (Fred Prouser / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Chicago's failed Olympic bid

    First lady Michelle Obama, left, sits next to Winfrey and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, right, at the opening ceremonies of the 121st International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session and XIII Olympic Congress at the Copenhagen Opera House on Oct. 1, 2009, in Copenhagen. Despite the star power backing its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, Chicago was eliminated during the first round. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The queen of daytime

    Winfrey, right, performs with the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie, center, and will.i.am, left, in Chicago on Sept. 8, 2009, while taping an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The episode was taped on a three-block stretch of Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River to celebrate the show's 24th season. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Honorary degree

    Winfrey smiles at Duke president Richard Brodhead after receiving her honorary degree from Duke University during a graduation ceremony in Durham, N.C., on May 10, 2009. Her godson, William Bumpus, son of her well-known friend, Gayle King, was among the graduates. (John Rottet / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A powerful woman

    Oprah Winfrey arrives at the 17th Annual Women In Entertainment Power 100 Breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2008. Winfrey was No. 1 on the list, which is compiled by the Hollywood Reporter. (Katy Winn / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Book promoter

    Winfrey holds a copy of her September 2008 pick for her Book Club -- David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." Since launching her Book Club in 1996, Winfrey has helped authors from Toni Morrison to Joyce Carol Oates sell millions of books. (George Burns / Harper Productions via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Helping to celebrate

    Winfrey arrives for the birthday dinner party of former South African President Nelson Mandela at Hyde Park in London on June 25, 2008. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The 'O' endorsement

    In another first for the talk-show maven, Winfrey endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president in 2007. She hosted a fundraiser for Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle, on Sept. 8, 2007, at her home in Montecito, Calif. That weekend, Winfrey made four joint appearances with Obama at various campaign stops. (Harpo Productions via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. For the girls

    On Jan. 2, 2007, Winfrey, center, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of her Leadership Academy for Girls School in South Africa. "The school will teach girls to be the best human beings they can ever be; it will train them to become decision-makers and leaders; it will be a model school for the rest of the world," Winfrey wrote on the academy's Web site. (Denis Farrell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Oprah, Dave ... Dave, Oprah

    David Letterman walks hand-in-hand with Winfrey from the Ed Sullivan Theater to the premiere of her new musical "The Color Purple" at the nearby Broadway Theater after Winfrey made an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Dec. 1, 2005, in New York. For years Letterman had a running joke about how Oprah didn't like him. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Red-carpet ready

    Winfrey, right, and actress Halle Berry strike a pose for the cameras on the red carpet at the 77th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 25, 2005. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. In front of, and behind, the camera

    Winfrey brought her own camcorder to the 30th Annual People's Choice Awards on Jan. 11, 2004, in Pasadena, Calif. (Carlo Allegri / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Powerful friends

    Winfrey joined U2 frontman and philantrophist Bono at a gala dinner before the "Give 1 Minute to AIDS" concert for The Nelson Mandela Foundation's 46664 campaign held at Greenpoint Stadium on Nov. 27, 2003, in Cape Town, South Africa. (Dave Benett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Hall of Famer

    Winfrey was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Magazine Hall of Fame on Nov. 11, 2002. She attended the gala at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. (Evan Agostini / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Charitable giving

    Winfrey stands in front of hundreds of children in Durban, South Africa, on Dec. 8, 2002. Tens of thousands of children received gifts of food, clothing, athletic shoes, school supplies, books and toys as part of Winfrey's philanthropic trip for her charity, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. (Benny Gool / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Cruise control

    Actor Tom Cruise appeared on Winfrey's show on Dec. 6, 2001, to talk about his film "Vanilla Sky" and his break-up with then-wife Nicole Kidman. Cruise returned to her show in 2005 to talk about his new love, actress Katie Holmes. Cruise gained cultural infamy for jumping on Winfrey's couch in an enthusiastic display of his love for Holmes. (George Burns / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. W to W

    Then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush gives a kiss to Winfrey after appearing on her show on Sept. 19, 2000. (Tannen Maury / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Magazine boss

    Winfrey is joined by Barbara Walters, left, and Diana Ross, right, at the launch party for her magazine on April 17, 2000, at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York. (Evan Agostini / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Movie star

    Winfrey co-starred with Danny Glover in the movie "Beloved," director Jonathan Demme's adaption of Toni Morrison's novel. (Touchstone Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. What's the beef?

    Winfrey arrives at the federal courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, in January 1998. Cattlemen filed a lawsuit against her for saying on her talk show that the U.S. beef industry could be at risk of spreading mad cow disease. The trial forced Winfrey to move her show to Amarillo for several episodes. She won that trial, but the cattlemen filed another suit a few weeks later. A U.S. District judge ultimately dismissed the case in 2002. (Akhtar Hussein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Running for the cause

    Winfrey ran in the Revlon Run/Walk for Women 5K to raise money for women's cancer organizations in 2007. She has been open about battles with weight and her love-hate relationship with exercise. (Mirek Towski / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Furry escort

    Winfrey brought one of her furry friends with her to Ebony Magazine's "Celebrate the Dream: 50 Years of Ebony Magazine" event on Nov. 17, 1996. (Ron Wolfson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Golden girl, and her man

    Longtime boyfriend Stedman Graham has been by Winfrey's side at many awards shows, including the Daytime Emmy Awards. In 1987, her first year of eligibilty, she claimed three Emmys, including one for outstanding host and outstanding talk program. (Robin Platzer / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Hot topics

    In 1994, Winfrey consoled a distraught mourner during a segment of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" taped at Buffalo United Methodist Church, in Union, S.C., following the revelation that fellow townswoman Susan Smith drowned her sons, Alex and Michael, when she let her car roll into a local lake. The case drew nationwide interest. (Taro Yamasaki / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Weight issues

    On Nov. 16, 1988, Winfrey rolled out a toy wagon containing 68 pounds of fat on her show to illustrate how much weight she had lost. She credited her 68-pound weight loss to a liquid diet and exercise. Her goal was to fit into a size 10 pair of blue jeans for the first time. However, she quickly gained the weight back and has see-sawed ever since. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Famous friend

    Winfrey strikes a pose with famed composer and producer Quincy Jones. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Oscar nominee

    Winfrey co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg, second from right, and Rae Dawn Chong, right, in "The Color Purple" in 1985. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sofia. She would later name her production company Harpo, another character in the film, which is also Oprah spelled backwards. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Early promise

    An 18-year-old Winfrey received the Miss WVOL award from the Nashville, Tenn., radio station in 1972. Winfrey rose quickly from local radio and TV reporter to become host of her own nationally syndicated talk show. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Anne Marie Fox / AP
    Above: Slideshow (34) It's Oprah's world
  2. Image: Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular
    Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images
    Slideshow (20) Oprah's farewell spectacular

Explainer: Oprah's most memorable moments

  • Oprah Winfrey is a kind of teacher. Since 1986, via her classroom called "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she's taught us it's OK to cry, OK to share our problems, OK to give away cars to an entire audience and OK to love books. In return, she has earned the uniquely American honor of being known by her first name only, and according to Forbes magazine, became the first female black billionaire.

    With the launch of her cable channel OWN in January, Oprah has already metaphorically left the stage, but she'll be doing so for real on May 25. So here, we take a look back at some of the biggest moments from the show that made this woman and her big heart a giant star.

  • Oprah and her little red wagon (1988)

    Oprah's ongoing battle with the bulge has kept her human and sympathetic in many viewers' hearts. She's living proof that all the money in the world can't buy you a size 6 body if your body ain't having it.

    But in 1988 she knocked everyone's socks off by wheeling out 67 pounds of fat in a little red wagon, the amount of weight she'd lost by going on Optifast and essentially eating nothing for four months. (Oh, and her bod was pretty rockin', too.)

    Sadly, she ruined her metabolism with the diet and has been going up and down ever since.

  • Interview with a mass murderer (1989)

    Oprah and crazed killers are hardly unfamiliar company, though she's more likely to bring in victims or relatives of the dead to speak about their experiences. (Examples: Jim Jones Jr. and John Wayne Gacy's sister).

    Maybe she learned her lesson from this never-aired segment: While interviewing a man who had killed eight people and some of his victims' families, she called a halt to the proceeding, deciding this was not the direction she wanted to go.

    Story: A-listers turn Oprah's farewell show into a star-studded event
  • The king of pop sends an invitation (1993)

    Reclusive and already a bit odd in 1993 (though not yet an accused child molester), Michael Jackson rarely gave interviews. But when he decided to sit down for a free-for-all chat, he picked Oprah to do the questioning.

    She visited Neverland Ranch and went over just about every rumor that had been thrown at him, including his gradually whitening skin and whether he owned the bones of John Merrick (aka the "Elephant Man"). The 90-minute show was Oprah's most-watched, with 100 million people tuning in.

  • Mad cows and the doctor (1996)

    Oprah didn't want to know where the beef was in this segment — she wanted to know what was in the beef. After learning about mad cow disease from expert Howard Lyman, she stated she'd never eat another burger.

    Texas cattlemen saw their industry torpedoed by that opinion and sued — and lost. But another beefy result emerged from the trial: Oprah hired Phil McGraw's company, Courtroom Sciences, to assist in jury analysis. She liked the owner so much she started having him on her show regularly.

    In 2002, Dr. Phil got his own series. So far, it's been working pretty well for him.

    Video: Drs. Phil and Oz on Oprah's impact
  • Reading is fundamental (1996)

    Book lovers can't understand a world where someone has no interest in reading, but Oprah knew there were potential readers out there who just needed to be reached. In 1996, she launched her book club to spotlight one book each month — the first was "The Deep End of the Ocean" — and in the process created superstar best-sellers of her choices, and almost her own genre.

    Despite the massive publicity and sales that would ensue from a mention on her show, not every author was happy to be chosen. Jonathan Franzen was embarrassed to have his "The Corrections" on her list. But whatever you may think of her choices, Oprah gets millions to read.

    theGrio slideshow: Oprah's most memorable hairdos

  • Philosopher, poet, boy of peace (2001)

    Though only 11 when he came on her show, Mattie Stepanek was a marvel of the human spirit beyond anything Hollywood has ever tried to capture on film. Confined to a wheelchair due to his diagnosis of a rare form of muscular dystrophy, Stepanek had three wishes: To have his poetry published, to meet his hero Jimmy Carter to talk about world peace, and to meet Oprah.

    All came true. Stepanek's numerous "Heartsongs" books hit the top of The New York Times' best-seller lists, and he met Carter and Oprah — both of whom who attended his funeral in 2004.

  • These are just a few of Oprah's favorite things (2002)

    Even people who didn't watch Oprah wanted the golden ticket to her annual smorgasbord giveaway of stuff — which is why these shows were never announced in advance. Starting in 2002, Oprah began giving away all sorts of gifts to her audience en masse, everything from food items to beauty products to top-of-the-line high tech gizmos.

    The only thing an audience could expect was the unexpected: One year she gave away prizes to an audience of teachers, and one year to volunteers of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup. She skipped 2009 ("For the last couple of years, it just wasn't feeling right," an executive producer had said), and then went overboard in 2010 with two days of "ultimate favorite things."

    Clearly, there's always a way to top yourself — even if you're Oprah.

  • Everybody gets a car! (2004)

    And then there was the car giveaway. The episode started interestingly, with a highly promoted Pontiac car. Then Oprah brought 11 audience members to the stage and told them they'd each be getting one of the vehicles. Mayhem ensued. Tears were shed. Then she let the cat out of the bag: Under everyone's seat was a gift box, and inside one of those boxes would be a key to a 12th car.

    Nope! Each box had a key, and everyone in the audience got a brand-new car. Pandemonium ensued — plus the memorable sound of Oprah also losing it, shouting, "Everybody gets a car!" over and over. Of course, the episode was probably much more fun for those in the audience than the folks eating lunch on their La-Z-Boy recliner.

  • Cruise takes the couch (2005)

    For a long while, Tom Cruise's sexuality had been under question in the press. When he met Katie Holmes, everyone shrugged. Well, Cruise was not going to have any of that.

    When he went on Oprah for a chat, her mere query about his new squeeze drove him over the edge. He began gesticulating and kneeling, then got up and jumped up and down on the couch in what felt oddly like a planned display of overenthusiastic joy. Cruise never got an award for it, but in many ways it was Cruise's most memorable performance.

    Interactive: Watch: Oprah screaming celeb names
  • James Frey gets his behind handed to him (2006)

    Having placed James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" "memoir" on her book-club list, Oprah was completely behind Frey when she brought him on her show in October 2005 in a segment called "The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake at Night."

    The book was propelled into bestseller nirvana — until The Smoking Gun revealed that Frey must have made up multiple segments of the book. Frey confessed, and then even more strangely went back on Oprah's show in January 2006, where she berated him for lying to the public.

    She apologized later — not that she needed to — and in a final coup de grace, Frey has been announced as one of her final guests, making another appearance before the May 25 finale of her show.

    What do you think is "The Oprah Winfrey Show's" most memorable moment? Tell us on our TV blog The Clicker's Facebook page.

    Randee Dawn is a freelance writer based in New York, and was born with a remote control in her hand. She is the co-author of "The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion."

Video: Cruise, Hanks drop by Oprah's last shows

  1. Closed captioning of: Cruise, Hanks drop by Oprah's last shows

    >>> oh, yes, i need that. it's time.

    >> time for "news you can't use." next week, oprah's last week.

    >> amazing, isn't it?

    >> 25 years, her last week, taping some episodes that will run next week. we have a few clips out to us from harpo. filling up the united center in chicago, where the bulls and blackhawks pay. packed house, invited guests, her biggest fans were there, taping a couple shows yesterday and her biggest celebrity fans. tom cruise , jade pinkette smith. and her friend, tom hanks . tom hanks .

    >> tom hanks . you know, tom, he was in "castaway."

    >> he was on " morning joe ."

    >> he was on " morning joe ." the one with the box of chocolates. " band of brothers ." very well-known american actor .

    >> you're oprah winfrey !

    >> you're tom hanks !

    >> take all this in for a moment.

    >> oprah winfrey , today, you are surrounded by nothing but love.

    >> see what i'm talking about? the guy from the movies.

    >> yeah, i've seen him before.

    >> the one with the mermaid, daryl hannah .

    >> tom hanks was there.

    >> also, last night, jon stewart , back with bill o 'reilly.

    >> you think t.j. has his clip cued?

    >> this one i have.

    >> bill o 'reilly of the fox news channel .

    >> do a little ad-libbing.

    >> comedy central and talking about the 2012 republican field.

    >> presidential politics, republican side , any republican possible candidate that you like, that you respect? do we have music we can put under stewart? tah-dah tah-dah.

    >> that i like? like them personally or --

    >> that you would like to be a good president.

    >> ticktock ticktock ticktock.

    >> anybody you want to run? sarah palin , she was a governor.

    >> i'm sorry, i think my earpiece went out.

    >> sarah palin governor of alaska , left office with high approval rating? i'm sure she did and then they got to know her. if you were to open a box labeled president and pull something out, it would look like mitt romney .

    >> newt gingrich . hello?

    >> listen, he has -- definitely, his head is large enough you imagine there are great ideas in there, but it's so big, it's almost like they're free range ideas and i don't know if he can actually herd them.

    >> michele bachmann .

    >> michelle my-bell bachmann. i can tell you like her. just by your face, you don't want to admit it, though. you like her.

    >> respect grows in leaps and bounds. you're like the grinch right after he realized they don't need presents for christmas when you see me. you love me because you know we come from the same -- we're the same people. you want this date to go on forever.

    >> um --

    >> there you go.

    >> those candidates, they were setups. o'reilly's teeing them up.

    >> he said he thinks tim pawlenty seems like a nice man.

    >> he does. tim pawlenty .

    >> i think the party's over.

    >> up next, doctor, governor, chairman, whatever you want to call him and the moderator, "meet the press."

    >> he's so aggressive.

    >> seriously, what's wrong with him.

    >> newt said he was too mean.

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