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On September 8, 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show is broadcast nationally for the first time. A huge success, her daytime television talk show turns Winfrey into one of the most powerful, wealthy people in show business and, arguably, one of the most influential women in America.
Winfrey, who was born in rural Mississippi to a poor unwed teenage mother on January 29, 1954, began her TV career as a local news anchor in Nashville and Baltimore before moving to Chicago in 1984 to host a low-rated morning talk program. She quickly turned the show into a ratings winner, beating out a popular talk program hosted by Phil Donahue. At the urging of the Chicago-based movie critic Roger Ebert, Winfrey signed a syndication deal with King World and The Oprah WinfreyShow was broadcast nationally for the first time on September 8, 1986. It went on to become the highest-rated talk show in TV history.
Proving that talk-show host wasn’t the only role she could play, Winfrey made her big-screen debut as Sofia in director Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple(1985), based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name and co-starring Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. The film earned Winfrey a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, although she lost the gold statue to Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor). Winfrey went on to star in and produce in 1998’s Beloved, based on Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel,and voice characters for 2006’s Charlotte’s Web and 2007’s Bee Movie, which co-starred and was co-written by Jerry Seinfeld. In addition to TV and film, Winfrey became a true media mogul, branching out to books and magazines, radio, musical theater and the Web.
In 2008, The Oprah Winfrey Show had an estimated weekly audience of some 46 million viewers in the United States and was broadcast around the world in 134 countries. Winfrey wields enormous influence when it comes to promoting products: A recommendation on her show could turn a book, movie or just about anything else into a bestseller, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “Oprah Effect.” The show ended in May 2011; several months after Winfrey launched the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Oprah goes national - HISTORY
She has conquered the Forbes magazine list of richest people, won Emmy after Emmy for both Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Host, became the first African-American billionaire, spawned a veritable industry of self-help materials, and created the Oprah Effect, as what happens when she recommends — or recommends against — something. Not bad for a woman born to a teenage unwed mother in rural Mississippi — and who herself, shortly after running away from home became pregnant. Oprah’s early television career took her through Nashville and Baltimore before she settled in Chicago, turning around a low-rated morning program. Her success encouraged her to sign a deal launching her own syndicated talk show.
On this day, September 8, in 1986 the Oprah Winfrey Show launched nationally for the first time. Oprah’s appearances on the national stage follow the same stratospheric trajectory as her local ones.
Oprah took a format popularized by Phil Donahue and changed it from a hard-hitting journalistic expose to a more human-interest format. Oprah was interested in the emotions her stories would evoke: TIME magazine derisively called it “the talk show as a group therapy session.” But the audiences loved it. Oprah’s talk show became the highest-rated in the history of television, and spawned the careers of Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and many others.
Winfrey interviewed a plethora of public figures and everyday people during the show's 25-year history. When celebrities and newsmakers were ready to share their most intimate secrets their first stop was Winfrey's couch and when a serious story hit, the Oprah show focused on putting a human face on the headlines.
Winfrey claims her worst interviewing experience was with Elizabeth Taylor in the show's second season. Just before the interview, Taylor asked Winfrey not to ask any questions about her relationships. Winfrey found this to be a challenge considering Taylor had been married seven times. Taylor returned to the show in 1992, apologized to Winfrey and told her that she was in excruciating back and hip pain at the time. 
On February 10, 1993, Winfrey sat down in a prime-time special broadcast with Michael Jackson, who had performed nine days earlier in the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show, for what would become the most-watched interview in television history. Jackson, an intensely private entertainer, had not given an interview in 14 years. The event was broadcast live from Jackson's Neverland Ranch and was watched by 90 million people worldwide and, as a result, his then 14 month old studio album Dangerous hit the top-ten on the album charts. Jackson discussed missing out on a normal childhood and his strained relationship with his father, Joe Jackson. During the interview, Jackson attempted to dispel many of the rumors surrounding him and told Winfrey he suffered from the skin-pigment disorder known as vitiligo when asked about the change in the color of his skin. While admitting to getting a nose job, he denied all other plastic surgery rumors. Later in the interview, Jackson was joined by his close friend Elizabeth Taylor, her third appearance on the show. 
Winfrey's interview with Tom Cruise, which was broadcast on May 23, 2005, also gained notoriety. Cruise "jumped around the set, hopped onto a couch, fell rapturously to one knee and repeatedly professed his love for his then-girlfriend, Katie Holmes."  This scene quickly became part of American pop-cultural discourse and was heavily parodied in media.
Celine Dion appeared on the show 28 times, the most of any celebrity, besides Gayle King, Winfrey's best friend, who appeared 141 times. 
Winfrey also interviewed Chicago's "Guardian Angels" and Raymond Lear in 1988.
Notable guests Edit
Winfrey interviewed Kathy Bray three weeks after her 10-year-old son, Scott, was accidentally killed by a friend who had found his father's gun. Viewers later commented that the interview changed their feelings about having guns in their homes. 
In the 1989–90 season, Truddi Chase—a woman who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, having 92 distinct personalities—appeared on the show. Chase had been violently and sexually abused beginning at the age of two and said her old self ceased to exist after that. After introducing Chase, who was there to promote her book When Rabbit Howls, Winfrey unexpectedly broke down in tears while reading the teleprompter, relating her own childhood molestation to that of the guest. Unable to control herself, Winfrey repeatedly asked producers to stop filming. 
Erin Kramp, a mother dying of breast cancer, appeared on the show in 1998. After realizing that her six-year-old daughter, Peyton, would have to grow up without her, Kramp began recording videotapes filled with motherly advice on everything from makeup tips to finding a husband. She also wrote letters and bought gifts for Peyton to open every Christmas and birthday she was gone. Kramp lost her battle with cancer on October 31, 1998. She had recorded over a hundred videos and audiotapes for her daughter. 
Jo Ann Compton's daughter Laurie Ann was stabbed to death in 1988—and a decade later, the mom was tangled in her grief. "I hope they're in the same hell I'm in." she said of her daughter's murderers on a 1998 show. Oprah brought in Dr. Phil to help Jo Ann. He asked her if she thought her daughter would want her to be in so much pain—and Compton said no. "Maybe the betrayal is focusing on the day of her death, rather than celebrating the event of her life.” Phil continued. "She lived for 18 vibrant years, and you focus on the day she died." After a moment, Compton uttered her breakthrough sentence: "I never thought of it that way." Later, she sobbed while revealing that she had been planning to end her life after the show. When Compton returned to the show in 2011, she had a new viewpoint on the daughter she lost: "She continues to stay alive every time I do something positive." Compton's surviving daughter, Cindy, said "She went from existing to living. It was an amazing transformation." 
In 2001, Winfrey met 11-year-old Mattie Stepanek, who was born with dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy and wrote inspirational poetry he titled "Heartsongs." On the show, Stepanek stated, "A heartsong doesn't have to be a song in your heart. It doesn't have to be talking about love and peace. … It's your message, what you feel like you need to do."  In October 2008, Winfrey spoke at the posthumous dedication of Mattie J.T Stepanek Park in Maryland. 
Oprah's Book Club Edit
Originally featured a monthly book highlight, including author interviews. Its popularity caused featured books to shoot to the top of bestseller lists, often increasing sales by as many as a million copies at its peak. It was suspended in 2002 and returned in 2003, featuring more classic works of literature, with reduced selections per season. The original format was reintroduced in September 2005, but Winfrey's selection of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces became controversial due to accusations of falsification. January 2006 saw Elie Wiesel's Night selected Winfrey even traveled to Auschwitz with Wiesel. In 2008, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth was selected. Modernizing the book club's platform, Winfrey and Tolle began a series of live webcast classes that were streamed on Oprah.com to discuss elements of the book with a worldwide audience. 
Oprah's Favorite Things Edit
Items personally favored by Winfrey were featured on the show and given away to audience members. Since its launch in 1996, the "Favorite Things" episode quickly became the hottest ticket in television. When a product was featured, its sales skyrocketed. Select groups were sometimes chosen to receive the items. In 2004, the audience was made up of educators from across the country. Hurricane Katrina volunteer workers were invited to the 2005 show. Winfrey has said that the iPad, given away to her 2010 audience, was her all-time favorite "Favorite Thing". During a Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes episode documenting the production of the giveaway, Winfrey talked about why the event resonates with viewers:
The things of "Favorite Things" is the least of the experience. It's sharing that moment with 300 other people, acknowledging that surprise and fantastical, sensational, wonderful, happy things can still occur in your life. 
Oprah & Gayle's Big Adventures Edit
Winfrey and Gayle King are friends. In 1976, Winfrey was working as a news anchor in Baltimore when she met King, a production assistant. The two bonded during a snowstorm when Winfrey told King she could stay at her home to wait it out. Their friendship was often showcased on the show when the best friends decided to take a trip together.
In 2004, they traveled back in time, participating in the PBS series Colonial House. The series intended to recreate daily life in Plymouth Colony in 1628. Their 24-hour Puritan adventure included wood-chopping, cooking over an open fire, battling with mice, and using leaves as toilet paper. 
Winfrey and King joined 60 other women for a spa getaway in 2006. They spent five days at Miraval Life in Balance Resort and Spa taking part in self-improvement exercises. For an exercise called A Swing and a Prayer, the women were hoisted 40 feet in the air and told to let go. Once in the air, King—who is afraid of heights—wouldn't let herself fall. Winfrey couldn't help but laugh as King remained in the air, but eventually persuaded her to let go. 
In the summer of 2006, Winfrey and King decided to go on an 11-day, 3,600-mile road trip across America – from California to New York. They were excited to meet people from small towns and see how America really lives. However, the initial excitement quickly wore off. The friends had minor meltdowns and fought for control over the radio King likes to have music constantly playing while driving, Winfrey prefers silence. Despite the challenges of the road trip, they got to see the beauty of Sedona, meet the people of Navajo Nation, crash a couple of weddings, take a dip in the healing waters of Pagosa Springs, and learn about Amish culture. Winfrey's many driving anxieties and King's tone-deaf singing made the trip a huge hit with viewers. 
The friends visited the State Fair of Texas in 2009. They played traditional state fair games like Flip-the-Chick and the water gun race. They tried many of the fried foods offered at the fair and judged a best "Best of Show" food contest. 
For the farewell season, the best friends hit the road again for an overnight camping trip at Yosemite National Park. Park ranger Shelton Johnson wrote to Winfrey because he was concerned by the low number of African-Americans who visited the national parks each year. So Winfrey and King packed up their camper and headed to Yosemite to help Johnson attract visitors. When they arrived, Johnson took Winfrey and King around the park to see some of its famous sites including Mariposa Grove and the Tunnel View, from which El Capitan is visible in the distance. On the way to the campsite, Winfrey made a sharp turn causing their trailer to hit a rock. After setting up their pop-up camper, the two mixed up some Moscow Mules to pass out to their camping neighbors. The drink has become a signature Oprah cocktail. The next day they took a lesson in fly fishing and wrapped up their stay with a mule ride. 
Remembering Your Spirit Edit
A segment at the end of the show that featured spiritual counselors, ordinary people who had been involved in extraordinary situations. They would come on the show and share their stories of overcoming adversity with the audience, inspiring viewers to do the same in their own lives. 
Change Your Life TV Edit
Iyanla Vanzant Edit
Iyanla Vanzant is a former attorney, spiritual teacher and self-help expert who was a regular on the show in the late 1990s. She started the show in its 12th season and became known for her no-nonsense, hard-hitting, and often humorous advice. Vanzant's take on everything from cheating spouses to financial struggles connected with viewers and, at times, Winfrey sat in the audience while Vanzant led the show. Her books In the Meantime and One Day My Soul Just Opened Up became New York Times bestsellers. 
Dr. Phil Edit
Winfrey met Phil McGraw when he worked as a consultant for her legal team during her 1998 beef trial in Amarillo, Texas. Starting in April of that year, he became a fixture on the show and a viewer favorite. McGraw gave guests tough, tell-it-like-it-is advice and didn't allow excuses or rationalizations for their bad habits, bad marriages, or bad attitudes. His popular Tuesday appearances on the show led to his own talk show, Dr. Phil, in 2002. 
Suze Orman Edit
Financial expert Suze Orman became a viewer favorite, offering money tips, spending interventions, and her famous "Suze smackdowns." She encouraged people to be honest with themselves about what they could afford and gave advice on getting rid of credit card debt. Her motivational approach to fixing finances has led to her own financial advice empire. 
What's The Buzz? Edit
Winfrey introduced up-and-coming public figures who generated industry buzz but not otherwise widely known. In what several media commentators have labelled The Oprah Effect, people appearing on this segment such as Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx and singer James Blunt benefited from the extra publicity the show garnered. Blunt, in particular, saw album sales increase dramatically and landed a Top Two spot on the Billboard 200.
Wildest Dreams Edit
A show feature called "Wildest Dreams" fulfilled the dreams of people reported to Winfrey by the producers – mostly viewers who wrote into the show – be the dreams of a new house, an encounter with a favorite performer, or a guest role on a popular TV show. It was named after the Tina Turner song "In Your Wildest Dreams," and Turner was one of the celebrities featured on the segment.
Tuesdays with Dr. Oz Edit
Mehmet Oz, the head of cardiac surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in NYC and better known to millions of Winfrey's viewers as "Dr. Oz", regularly appeared on Tuesdays during the 2008–2009 season. In 2009, Dr. Oz debuted The Dr. Oz Show in first-run syndication. The series is co-produced by Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures Television.
Fridays Live Edit
A weekly live episode premiered in the show's 23rd season with a panel consisting of Winfrey, Gayle King, Mark Consuelos, and Ali Wentworth. The panel discussed the week's news and highlighted events in the media and on the show.
In the 2009–10 season, Winfrey hosted this segment on her own. Fridays Live did not return for the show's 25th season. 
No Phone Zone Edit
In March 2010, Winfrey began a campaign to stop drivers from talking or texting on their cell phone in their vehicles while driving. This campaign was regularly noted near the beginning or at the end of episodes. 
On November 10, 1986, during a show about sexual abuse, Winfrey revealed that she was raped by a relative when she was nine years old. Since this episode, Winfrey has used the show as a platform to help catch child predators, raise awareness, and give victims a voice. 
Liberace appeared in the first season of the show on December 25, 1986. He performed a Christmas medley Winfrey said it was "the most beautiful I've ever heard". Six weeks later he died of cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure brought on by subacute encephalopathy. The episode was Liberace's final televised appearance. 
The show had only been on the air for just six months when, in 1987, Winfrey traveled to Forsyth County, Georgia, a community in which, for 75 years, no black person had lived. Winfrey brought attention to racial tensions in the area. The show was set up as a town hall meeting where residents expressed their divisive opinions on the matter. The meeting was becoming heated when one woman stood up and said:
I just hate to think that someone is going to get hurt before the people get some sense about them and talk about this and get it like it's supposed to be. black and white together in Forsyth County. There's no other way. 
The "Diet Dreams Come True" episode from November 15, 1988 has become one of the most talked-about moments in the history of show. After years of struggling to lose weight, Winfrey had finally succeeded in doing so. In July of that year, she had started the Optifast diet while weighing 212 pounds. By Fall, she weighed 145 pounds. To commemorate achieving her weight loss goals, Winfrey wheeled out a wagon full of fat to represent the 67 pounds she had lost on the diet. She showed off her slim figure in a pair of size 10 Calvin Klein jeans. However, after returning to real food she quickly gained back much of the weight she had lost.  Winfrey now refers to that moment as her "ego in a pom pom salute." 
While doing a show centered on women drug users in 1995, Winfrey opened up about her personal history with drug abuse:
I relate to your story so much. In my twenties, I have done this drug cocaine. I know exactly what you're talking about. It is my life's great big secret. It is such a secret because I realize that the public person that I have become, if the story were ever revealed, the tabloids would exploit it and what a big issue it would be. But I was involved with a man in my twenties who introduced me to cocaine. I always felt that the drug itself was not the problem, but that I was addicted to the man. I've often said over the years in my attempt to come out and say it, I have said many times, I did things in my twenties I was ashamed of, I've done things I've felt guilty about. And that is my life's great secret that's been held over my head. I understand the shame and I understand the guilt, I understand the secrecy, I understand all that. 
In 1996, Winfrey spoke with seven of the Little Rock Nine and three white former classmates who tormented the group on their first day of high school in 1957 as well as a student who had befriended them. Winfrey was grateful to have the remaining members of the Little Rock Nine on her show because she credits her success to those who have contributed to the Civil Rights Movement which paved the way for people like herself. 
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly as a lesbian during her appearance on the show in 1997 after appearing on a Time magazine cover next to the headline "Yep, I'm gay." At the time, DeGeneres was the star of her own sitcom, ABC's Ellen. The episode brought Winfrey the most hate mail she had ever received. 
Clemantine Wamariya and her sister Claire appeared on the show in 2006 when Wamariya was selected as one of the winners of an essay contest held by Winfrey. It was revealed that the siblings had not seen their parents in 12 years after fleeing Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Winfrey surprised the sisters by flying their family to Chicago for one of the most emotional reunions on the show. 
In 2007, the Marines of the Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion Alpha Company and their naval corpsman, made the show their first stop after a seven-month tour on the front lines in Iraq. Winfrey welcomed the Marines with a big homecoming celebration where they were reunited with their loved ones on the show. 
On November 11, 2009, Charla Nash, who was mauled by her friend and employer Sandra Herold's pet chimpanzee Travis, came to the show to speak out for the first time about the terrifying attack that took place just nine months prior. Nash wears a veil daily because the attack left devastating injuries to her face and she "doesn't want to scare people." During the show, she agreed to lift her veil for the first time in public. 
While taping the show's 24th-season premiere on September 8, 2009, the entire audience of 21,000 people, gathered on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, surprised Winfrey by breaking out into a synchronized dance set to The Black Eyed Peas' performance of "I Gotta Feeling" (with new lyrics congratulating Winfrey on her show's longevity). The dance had been choreographed and rehearsed for weeks by a core group of dancers, who taught it to the entire crowd earlier in the day. 
During the farewell season, two hundred men who were molested came forward as part of a two-day event in 2010 to take a stand against sexual abuse. The men were joined by director and producer Tyler Perry, who had also experienced sexual abuse. Winfrey hoped that the episode would help survivors suffering in silence release the shame. 
On January 24, 2011, Winfrey revealed that just before Thanksgiving 2010 she had discovered she has a half-sister. Winfrey decided to share the news on her show because she knew the story would eventually get out and wanted to be the first to address the matter. 
On the season premiere of 2004, every person in Winfrey's show audience was given a new Pontiac G6 that was donated by General Motors,   worth about $8 million in total.  The giveaway was the genesis of the oft-satirized Oprah quote, "You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!" For the premiere of the show's farewell season, the studio audience of 300 "ultimate fans" were rewarded by being given a trip to Australia with Winfrey (donated by Australian tourism bodies).  Other giveaway shows included the annual Oprah's Favorite Things show, in which the studio audience received products Winfrey considered good Christmas gifts.
In 1996, on a discussion of Mad Cow Disease, Winfrey stated that the disease fears had "stopped [her] cold from eating another burger!"  Texas cattle ranchers considered that quote tantamount to defamation, and promptly sued her for libel. The show was still producing new episodes at the time of the trial and could not go into reruns, so the production was forced to move to Amarillo, Texas for a period of approximately one month during the proceedings. A gag order meant Winfrey was not allowed to even mention the trial on her show. Winfrey was found not liable.    The trial and move to Amarillo led to Winfrey meeting Phil McGraw Winfrey made McGraw a regular guest on her show shortly thereafter, which eventually led to McGraw getting his own show, produced by Winfrey's Harpo Productions. 
A controversial episode, which aired in 2005 (though originally aired to little apparent notice in October 2003), saw guests discussing the sexual act of "rimming", igniting criticism. The FCC received a proliferation of complaints from angry parents whose children watched the show in an early-evening slot in many television markets. However, most FCC correspondents were prodded to write by Howard Stern, a noteworthy target of the agency, as well as Jimmy Kimmel, in an attempt to expose an FCC double standard. 
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Winfrey was criticized for apparently declining to invite Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to her show until after the election. 
A 2009 episode attracted criticism from the crowd after Winfrey suggested mothers should buy vibrators for their teenage daughters. 
Winfrey's program was criticized for featuring alternative medicine advocates such as Suzanne Somers and vaccine denialist Jenny McCarthy.  
In the lead-up to Winfrey's tour of Australia, the show was heavily criticized for airing a segment sponsored by the McDonald's Corporation   in which it was claimed by Australian TV personality Carrie Bickmore that Australians liked to hang out at "hip McCafés".  This depiction of Australian culture was greeted with surprise by many Australians,  and anger throughout the Australian coffee industry, which claimed the statements did not accurately reflect the industry, painted the Australian coffee drinker in a bad light, and expected that the industry would be negatively affected by the statements.  In the same episode, McDonald's products were handed out to the studio audience.
Early in its twelfth season, Winfrey confessed she was "exhausted" and considered quitting.  However, while making the 1998 movie Beloved, Winfrey then admitted that it brought her back to her responsibility as an admired black woman with a great deal of power and influence. She realized that being in such a position within the media industry, she could make a positive difference in people's lives. Winfrey was once again inspired to continue to help people take better control of their destinies, hence her slogan, "Live Your Best Life".
I made the decision . in the midst of doing Beloved. I was doing some scenes—Beloved is about an ex-slave, and during that process of doing that I connected to really what slavery had meant, and my own personal ancestry and history connected it to a way I have never before from reading all about Black history and, you know, talking to relatives. And I realized that I had no right to quit coming from a history of people who had no voice, who had no power, and that I have been given this—this blessed opportunity to speak to people, to influence them in ways that can make a difference in their lives, and to just use that. 
On January 15, 2008, Discovery Communications, Harpo Productions, and Winfrey announced a joint venture to establish a new cable channel in 2009, known as the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).  In November 2008, it was reported that, during a conference call, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav stated that Winfrey did not intend to renew her contracts for The Oprah Winfrey Show beyond the 2010–11 season. Zaslav stated that Oprah could potentially move to the new channel in some form following the end of the syndicated series. However, Harpo Productions denied the report, stating that Winfrey had "not made a final decision as to whether she will continue her show in syndication beyond ".  
On November 20, 2009, Winfrey officially announced that The Oprah Winfrey Show would conclude in 2011, after its 25th and final season. Winfrey explained that 25 was "the perfect number—the exact right time", and that "I love this show. This show has been my life. And I love it enough to know when it's time to say goodbye."  The 25th season premiered on September 13, 2010, featuring guest John Travolta, and an audience of 300 of her "most loyal" fans. 
During the episode, it was also announced that the entire audience had been invited to join Winfrey on an eight-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Sydney, Australia for a series of special episodes, via a plane piloted by Travolta.  On December 11, 2010, Winfrey arrived in Sydney to record shows at the Sydney Opera House. Winfrey and her 300 American audience members were officially welcomed at a cocktail party in Sydney's Botanical Gardens overlooking Sydney Harbour.  The beach-themed party, hosted by New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally, featured live music and a fireworks display over the water which culminated in the lighting of a red 'O' on the Harbour Bridge.  The episodes in Australia were coordinated between Harpo Studios, Tourism Australia, Tourism New South Wales, the Sydney Opera House, Tourism Victoria, Tourism Queensland, R. M. Williams and Network Ten.   The federal government of Australia spent $1.5 million on the event while the government of the state of New South Wales spent an additional $1–2 million to promote the region. Tourism minister Martin Ferguson said "I think it's money well spent".   In addition, Tourism Victoria spent a further A$650,000. 
The farewell season featured several notable cast reunions, including The Sound of Music, The Color Purple, and The Way We Were.    [ non-primary source needed ]
In May 2011, Winfrey interviewed U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, her first-ever interview with a sitting president and First Lady. They talked about the challenges of parenting at the White House, the strength of their relationship, and their concern for the country's future. President Obama also thanked Winfrey for her contributions to the country. "You've got a big heart, and you share it with people. Nobody knows how to connect better than you do," he said. "We are just blessed and grateful to have you in our lives."  [ non-primary source needed ]
Final episodes Edit
The final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show aired on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. It was preceded by a two-part farewell special recorded at the United Center in Chicago in front of an audience of 13,000.  The two-part show featured appearances by Aretha Franklin, Tom Cruise, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Beyoncé, Tom Hanks, Maria Shriver, Will Smith, and Madonna.    Several hundred graduates of Morehouse College who were the recipients of Oprah's Oprah Winfrey Scholarship also attended to thank Oprah and pledge their future support of the scholarship program.   The final episode was a smaller affair, recorded in the usual recording studio. Winfrey spent most of the finale thanking the show's staff and her fans.
I've been asked many times during this farewell season, 'Is ending the show bittersweet?' Well, I say all sweet. No bitter. And here is why: Many of us have been together for 25 years. We have hooted and hollered together, had our aha! moments, we ugly-cried together and we did our gratitude journals. So I thank you all for your support and your trust in me. I thank you for sharing this yellow brick road of blessings. I thank you for tuning in every day along with your mothers and your sisters and your daughters, your partners, gay and otherwise, your friends and all the husbands who got coaxed into watching Oprah. And I thank you for being as much of a sweet inspiration for me as I've tried to be for you. I won't say goodbye. I'll just say. until we meet again. To God be the glory. 
She finished the show in tears.  The finale was marked by viewing parties across the US,  and the episode was also shown in movie theaters.  The episode received the show's highest rating in 17 years. 
After the show's final episode, reruns of Oprah remained available to air until September 2011, by which point individual stations had selected other syndicated or local programs to fill the show's timeslot. Several stations that had carried the show in the 4:00 p.m. timeslot began carrying local news programs at that time, with a handful of stations debuting these newscasts the day after the final episode aired as a result, the show's final months of reruns did not air in the normal timeslot in some areas. 
It has been reported that the show averages an estimated 7,   14,  and 15–20  million viewers a day in the United States. It has also been reported at 26 million  and 42 million   a week (5.2 and 8.4 million a day). Viewership for the show has been reported to have dropped over the years, averaging 12.6 million in 1991–2,  9 million in 2004,  9 million in 2005,  7.8 in 2006,  7.3 million in 2008,  and 6.2 million in 2009. 
The show was number one in the talk show ratings since its debut. The show spent many years as the highest-rated program in daytime television. Even with stiff competition, Oprah still maintained a consistent lead over other talk shows. 
Multiple shows have spun off of Oprah, including The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Phil, The Nate Berkus Show, and Rachael Ray. The Doctors is a spin-off of Dr. Phil, making it a third-generation spin-off.
The show aired on most ABC-owned stations in the United States (except KTRK-TV, but CBS-affiliate KHOU carried the show for the entire run) (as well as various other stations through CBS Television Distribution, successor to King World), CTV in most Canadian markets,  Diva Universal in Malaysia,  TV3 in Ireland,  GNT in Brazil, national TV3 in Sweden, Network Ten in Australia, La7d in Italy, MBC 4 in the Arab world, MetroTV in Indonesia, FARSI1 in Iran, and in the Netherlands on RTL4.
In the United Kingdom, the show has been broadcast on a number of different channels. Channel 4 first broadcast the series on Monday 3 October 1988,  During the 1990s, the BBC acquired the rights before they went to Five  from early 1998. Rights subsequently went to Living TV by 2002, followed by ITV2 in 2006, and then to Diva TV, until rights went to TLC for the last couple of series. During most of the 1990s and 2000s Sky one also broadcast the series.
The show aired in 149 countries worldwide and was often renamed and dubbed into other languages. 
Experts weigh in
Travis View, host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, told USA TODAY that QAnon followers tend to cast the most suspicion on "the biggest, most established celebrities," such as Hanks and Winfrey. Typically, those who are well-loved by entertainment media consumers with a long, distinguished career are targeted, he said.
The reason why QAnon devotees fixate on specific celebrities is "they are thoroughly convinced that the only way you can sort of achieve that high degree of success is by doing something morally depraved," View said.
Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Buffalo, told USA TODAY that claims around sex trafficking and child abuse have been present for thousands of years and tend to resurface in different forms.
Ophir said many celebrities probably have not publicly denied the claims because denying them can make things worse. "There is no counterargument you can provide that will convince people that it is not true," he said.
Throwback: Oprah Shuts Down Argument That She Can't Be Christian And Support Gay Rights
When the news broke that Oprah would appear as Ellen’s therapist on the comedian’s landmark coming-out episode of her self-titled sitcom, people had a lot of feelings about it. Some applauded Oprah’s participation as another step toward national acceptance and inclusion others were outraged that Oprah was “promoting lesbianism,” as one viewer wrote in an angry letter. One particularly distressed voice was that of an “Oprah Show” audience member who shared her opinion directly to Oprah during a taping of her show 20 years ago.
It was 1997, two weeks before Ellen’s “The Puppy Episode” would air. Oprah was reading and responding to viewer mail, which included various perspectives on her upcoming “Ellen” appearance. That’s when one audience member shared the reason for her outcry.
“In the Bible, it clearly states that homosexuality is wrong,” said the audience member. “And if you are going to represent yourself as a Christian, and then you’re going to go on the show and say that you also support [homosexuality], it’s double-standarding.”
“I have a different view of ‘Christian’ than you do, OK?” Oprah said. “The God I serve doesn’t care whether you’re tall or short, or whether you were born black or Asian or gay.”
Oprah then mentioned that moments before taking the stage, she had been in the makeup chair arguing with someone who insisted that she was going to hell for her “Ellen” role.
“I take full responsibility for my going to hell or heaven,” Oprah said. “And I feel that everybody who’s concerned about me now going to hell because I’m doing the Ellen DeGeneres show, I think that you all should take that energy and try to create a little heaven here on earth for everybody.”
She continued, “See, I believe God created Ellen. I believe God did that. And if Ellen says she’s gay, I believe God created her gay. I believe God did that. I support her right to be who she thinks she is.”
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Oprah Winfrey Breaks Through Another Barrier
Unless you're a coal miner working deep beneath the cold Chilean ground, you've likely heard that Oprah Winfrey is set to end her award-winning television talk show in 2011 after 25 years. The beloved Queen of Daytime TV kept America's eyes glued to her show throughout 2010, counting down each episode toward an incredible awe-inspiring transformation that moves Oprah from ABC to her "OWN" cable channel and online platform.
In a departure from the routine retirement clichés that fill the halls of fame depicting previous popular television shows, the Oprah Winfrey Show isn't being relegated to re-runs on some obscure channel in cable land. And Oprah's sun isn't setting. In fact, it's shining brighter.
Oprah, who has transformed multiple times in her illustrious career, is doing it again.
From unknown news reporter, to one-of-many daytime television talk show hosts, to celebrated actress, to above-the-fray messenger of goodwill and positive perspectives, Oprah has set herself apart from anyone we've ever known in the history of television media. And after moving into our living rooms, making herself comfortable as a household name and a welcome member in all American families, Oprah has bid us farewell to embark upon yet another journey of historic proportions.
But who would've thought this iconic Black woman, whose name is more popular than President Barack Obama, would venture into a White male-dominated cable television world where few Black media owners have ever successfully trod?
Oprah, the Institution
The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) launched January 1, 2011
The opening of 2011 began with the announcement of the Oprah Winfrey Network, a collaborative cable venture that transformed Oprah Winfrey, the individual, to Oprah, the institution. Oprah's Discovery Channel partner, which opened the door for her to become the first Black female media network owner in a White male-dominated cable landscape, is expected to benefit significantly from the personal brand magic that follows Oprah wherever she goes and uplifts anyone she touches.
Yet, while the New York Times led media banter about the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network and its innovative online marketing campaign that invited the American public to compete for the coveted spot of having one's "OWN" show, there was another important story unfolding beneath the media good cheer and well-wishing.
Oprah's entry into the land of cable television broke new ground for Black Americans. She sprouted up through the foundation of institutionalized racist rules and policies, which had long buried Black hopes of television and cable media ownership and cemented minorities to a level beneath the competitive playing field.
Oprah Winfrey, the individual, made history on daytime television, winning the hearts of Americans across racial lines. But it was Oprah, the institution, who grew strong enough to crack through an economic ceiling-floor built by a small handful of powerful men with government support.
Few folks know the history of cable television, which began in the 40s and early 50s, when Blacks were still struggling against government-sanctioned institutionalized racism across America. The entire media industry was dominated by Whites from inception through the Civil Rights era, with an exception for the spattering of Black-owned newspapers and magazines.
In 1972, when John H. Johnson was building the very first Black-owned commercial building in downtown Chicago for the historic Ebony-Jet headquarters, HBO was being introduced to the American public on cable TV. The meteoric rise of cable matched the skyrocketing popularity of network television, all of which was dominated by White media owners and corporate advertisers.
Today, few Whites know about the first national magazine to chronicle the lifestyles of Black Americans and display positive Black images and factual news to contrast the negative stereotypes and propaganda portrayed in White media. The Ebony-Jet empire, which has iconic status throughout Black America, is today still considered an ethnic fringe by many advertisers, publishers and broadcast executives in the White-dominated media.
Meanwhile, cable television has risen far beyond HBO. Oprah's entry into cable land is a monumental feat that looms even larger when contrasted with the historic timeline of Black struggles for opportunity in the tightly controlled landscape of American capitalism.
1 Percent Progress
In 2011, Whites continue to dominate media, owning 97 percent of the entire market. Blacks and other racial minority groups, which make up 35 percent of the American landscape, split a small 3 percent of crumbs on the edges of the media market pie.
The FCC, which has been under orders by Congress to produce accurate reports of media ownership based upon racial and gender demographics, has remained flat-footed and has yet to issue the report due in 2009. One of the most recent reports on the FCC website regarding minority owned media (which carries a disclaimer) is produced by Duke University in 2007 and lambastes the FCC for its stagnant approach and rudimentary processes in monitoring the media industry, as well as the agency's virtual refusal to produce accurate data and timely reports.
A cursory look at the American economic landscape reveals a paltry amount of progress has been made since Dr. Martin Luther King offered us the "Urgency of Now" message in a historic speech in 1963.
Chart taken from Knol: The U.S. Black/White Net Worth Gap
After 47 years of continued struggle, Blacks have eked out a 1 percent ownership in media, 1 percent of business ownership across industry sectors, and less than 1 percent contribution to America's overall GDP. To add to the struggle, a new report from the California Reinvestment Coalition reveals an 81 percent drop in access to Small Business Administration capital for Black business owners in 2011. The SBA is designed to fill in the gaps for small business owners who cannot secure lending from banks and other financial institutions. In other words, for many Black-owned small businesses, the SBA is the life-saving lender. The solemn news from California is that door is nearly shut.
When Johnson sought a loan to introduce Ebony onto the media landscape, he was turned away by all lenders. After years of enormous success, he sought to build a headquarters in Chicago's business district. Again lenders closed the door. The CRC report from December 2010 reveals the inability for Blacks to access sufficient capital is still a giant roadblock sitting in the path of entrepreneurs across industry sectors.
Against All Odds
Oprah's success in the face of America's economic depression is enormous. A 9 percent U.S. unemployment rate overall translates into 16 percent in Black America. The mortgage crisis, created and controlled by White financial and government institutions, wreaks holy havoc among Blacks, many of whom were the deliberate targets of predatory lenders in the aftermath of the nation's financial civil war (Bush Administration battled all 50 states' attorneys general). The White-dominated broadcast media industry, along with other business sectors, has laid off tens of thousands of journalists, an unhealthy percentage of whom are minorities.
Still, even in the worst of times, we love to celebrate successes. And we should. The nation felt proud of itself when the first Black president was elected in 2008 against enormous odds. And the Oprah Winfrey Network, which barely avoided catastrophe, launched this year against incredible odds.
The one thing that doesn't seem to change, as we celebrate the anomalies, is the enormous odds. Such odds are created and maintained by those who control institutions.
Overcoming Institutionalized Racism
The term "institutionalized racism" is often received with knee-jerk emotional reactions by many White Americans who fervently believe they would never willingly participate in deliberately undermining the progress of racial minorities and erecting monumental barriers to prevent their success. It is equally unfathomable to millions of White Americans that they live in a nation in which there are entire institutions, laws, rules, policies and rote behavior within industries and government that deliberately discriminate against Blacks and other minorities. For most White Americans, the Civil Rights era put an end to an ugly racist history that needs to be forgotten. And, with the exception of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I have a Dream" speech, it has.
The problem with such thinking is that it ignores the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was the beginning -- not the end -- of a national acknowledgment of institutionalized racism, rampant discriminatory practices and systems of neglect and deliberate hostility that targeted powerless people and sabotaged their progress.
The Civil Rights era was the beginning of a national understanding, and the beginning of a national movement to overcome the inertia of ignorance and unravel the intricate web of White "democracy" that excluded full participation by non-Whites. Ironically, the Civil Rights Movement could not have occurred until White America was adequately informed of the struggles experienced by Blacks.
Important information was eventually disseminated by White-owned national and local media -- the same media that had ignored the same struggles for many years while Black-owned media recorded the sad sordid history.
Conversely, when White-owned media stopped shining its spotlight upon the people and institutions that continued to hold Blacks and other minorities in contempt, the progress that caused Congress to write protective laws in 1964 and '65 rapidly diminished.
Today, American media highlights and celebrates Oprah's historic launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network. We all celebrate her success together and rightfully so, given Oprah has been a unifying positive force in America for a long time. But for some of us, the celebration has deeper meaning.
In like manner to the tear-filled celebration that spread across America and the world when President Barack Obama was inaugurated, Oprah's success (albeit less world-shaking) signals yet another crack in the foundation of institutionalized racism in America. That, too, is cause for celebration.
While we celebrate, let us be reminded of the monumental challenges Oprah has faced and overcome. Let us be reminded that it took Oprah, the institution, to crack through a cable media barrier erected when Jim Crow was alive and well. Let us be reminded that Oprah will remain the anomaly who succeeded against all odds, until the White odds-makers allow for an equal playing field.
The challenge is to someday reach a point where the achievement by non-Whites isn't "against all odds." On that day we will celebrate success of another winner in the competitive game of capitalism, rather than the first anomaly to defeat a rigged system.
Congratulations Oprah. You are truly a 21st century Civil Rights media icon.
Smithsonian Announces $12 Million Gift from Oprah Winfrey to the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture today
announced that Oprah Winfrey will donate $12 million to support the capital campaign of the new
museum. Combined with her $1 million gift in 2007, this brings Winfrey’s total contribution to
$13 million, the museum’s largest donation to date. Winfrey, chairman and CEO of OWN, the Oprah
Winfrey Network, has been a member of the museum’s advisory council since 2004.
In recognition of her generous gift, the museum’s theater will be named the Oprah Winfrey
Theater. One of the largest spaces in the museum, the 350-seat theater will be a forum in the nation’s
capital for performers, artists, educators, scholars, authors, musicians, filmmakers and opinion leaders.
The theater’s programs will enable audiences to gain a broader understanding of how African
American history and culture shape and enrich the country and the world.
Winfrey’s gift marks a significant milestone in the museum’s fundraising campaign. Design,
construction and exhibitions are expected to cost $500 million, half provided by congressional funding
and the remainder raised by the museum. Currently under construction on a five-acre site adjacent to
the Washington Monument, the 19th Smithsonian museum is expected to open in late 2015.
“We are inspired and profoundly grateful for Ms. Winfrey’s generosity at this important time,”
said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the museum. “Her gifts will forever be associated with
harnessing the power of art and creative expression to build bridges between cultures and enrich
people’s lives. Programming at the Oprah Winfrey Theater will mirror the museum’s commitment to
use African American history and culture as a lens to see what it means to be an American and to help
all Americans remember.”
“I am so proud of African American history and its contributions to our nation as a whole,”
said Winfrey. “I am deeply appreciative of those who paved the path for me and all who follow in
their footsteps. By investing in this museum, I want to help ensure that we both honor and preserve our
culture and history, so that the stories of who we are will live on for generations to come.”
Winfrey is chairman and CEO of OWN, which develops original programming for TV and
digital platforms. She is the founder of O, The Oprah Magazine and a channel on SiriusXM satellite
radio. In addition, Winfrey is a leading philanthropist who has awarded hundreds of grants through her
private philanthropy, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation.
“At its heart, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a showcase for
a richer, fuller picture of the American experience,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. “The
Oprah Winfrey Theater will bring untold stories alive through films, live performances, artistic
expression and public dialogue. The new theater’s designation could not be more fitting, as Ms.
Winfrey’s name is synonymous with generosity, education, excellence and the arts.”
About the Museum
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established as a
Smithsonian museum by an Act of Congress in 2003. It will be the nation’s largest and most
comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to showcasing African American life, art,
history and culture and the national place for visitors to fully appreciate the broader American story.
The legislation also established a Council to advise the museum on a range of issues, including
the planning, design and construction of the building its administration and the acquisition of objects
for the museum’s collections. The council co-chairs are Linda Johnson Rice, president and CEO of
Johnson Publishing Company Inc., and Richard D. Parsons, former chairman of Citigroup. Other
members of the Council are:
• Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), U.S. House of Representatives
• Willie Brown, Jr., former mayor of San Francisco
• Laura W. Bush, former First Lady of the United States of America
• James Ireland Cash, Jr., retired professor and senior associate dean of Harvard Business
• Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express Co.
• G. Wayne Clough, secretary, Smithsonian Institution
• Ann M. Fudge, retired chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Inc.
• Allan C. Golston, president, U.S. Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
• James A. Johnson, vice chairman of Perseus LLC
• Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of RLJ Companies and founder of Black Entertainment Television Inc.
• Quincy D. Jones, CEO of Quincy Jones Productions Inc.
• Ann Dibble Jordan, executive committee member, National Symphony Orchestra
• Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund
• Brian T. Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America
• Homer Alfred Neal, director of the University of Michigan Atlas Project and professor of physics
• E. Stanley O’Neal, former chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.
• Samuel J. Palmisano, chairman and CEO of IBM Corp.
• Gen. Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State
• Franklin D. Raines, former chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae
• Ruth J. Simmons, president of Brown University
• Gregg W. Steinhafel, chair, CEO and president of Target
• Patricia Q. Stonesifer, vice chair, Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents
• H. Patrick Swygert, president emeritus of Howard University
• Anthony Welters, executive vice president of United Health Group
While its building is under construction, the museum is presenting exhibitions in its gallery at
the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Its current exhibition, “Changing America:
The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and The March on Washington, 1963” explores the historical
context of these two events, their accomplishments and limitations, and their impact on the generations
that followed. It will remain open to the public through Sept. 15.
For more information about the exhibition and the museum, visit the museum’s website.
Oprah’s Undeniable Influence on American History Recognized in New Smithsonian Exhibition
Oprah Winfrey says she cried when she got to the end of the Smithsonian museum exhibition that bears her name because a journalist had written in the guest book that “watching Oprah every day is the reason I love myself so fiercely.” Winfrey says it reminds her of a letter she got in 1987 from a fan who told her “watching you be yourself every day makes me want to be more of myself.”
“It made me cry because it is full circle that the mission was accomplished,” Winfrey says. “The intention was fulfilled, and that was to be a mirror for people to see themselves, in other people, in others’ stories and by watching those stories of other people, be lifted, be inspired, be encouraged in a way that makes you think you can do better in your own life.
Winfrey says she is “in awe and bedazzled” by the exhibition “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture,” opening June 8 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. With amusement, she notes that in the more than 4,500 episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she has done one-on-one interviews with some 35,000 people.
“I’ve encountered people who had all kinds of experiences, near death experiences, out of body experiences and people talk about how when you go through the tunnel of light there is your life review—but I’m alive to see it,” Winfrey says. “You don’t have to have a trauma, a traffic accident, a tragedy. You just walk into an exhibit of your life. It’s fantastic! Hashtag Goals! Everybody!”
Winfrey says she was surprised by everything in the exhibition, a winding journey through the museum’s 4,300 square foot Special Exhibitions gallery on the concourse level. She says she feels “supremely honored” by the curatorial acknowledgement that the “Oprah Winfrey Show” has had enormous impact both on how people felt about their lives, and on culture in general.
Oprah Winfrey with her mother, Vernita Lee, in 1966 (On loan from Harpo, Inc.) Oprah Winfrey on her way to a Kansas City speech tournament in 1970 (On loan from Harpo, Inc.) Vernon Winfrey, Oprah's father, in 1976 (On loan from Harpo, Inc.) A page from Oprah Winfrey's 1971 high school yearbook (On loan from Harpo, Inc.) Oprah Winfrey, ca. 1955, with her mother Vernita Lee (left) and her aunt Christine (On loan from Harpo, Inc.) Bernice Johnson Reagon rehearses with Oprah Winfrey for the 1978 To Make a Poet Black and Bid Her Sing. (On loan from Harpo, Inc.)
“What it does is allow me to actually have affirmed for me what an astounding life this is,” Winfrey explains. “You know, I thought it was in my own head, but when you see it laid out in a scholarly fashion, organized in terms of the influence and impact that my life and the life of the show has had, it’s pretty profound.”
But Winfrey’s surprise and delight over what’s on display inside this exhibition is partly because this woman known for her attention to detail had almost nothing to do with putting it together, explains the museum’s founding director Lonnie Bunch.
“This was an exhibition chosen by the museum, created by the museum. Oprah and her staff played very little role in shaping the content,” Bunch explains, adding that museum curators picked which artifacts they wanted to use and fact checked them with Winfrey’s producers and staff. “The reality is we drew a very hard bright line to say that this was not a show done for Oprah, or by Oprah. It’s a show that wrestles with broader questions that uses Oprah as a lens to get it there.”
Some of those questions include how someone like Winfrey, through her talk show, philanthropy, her films, and her shows on the Oprah Winfrey Network, such as Queen Sugar that take viewers places they might not normally see, continues to shape the way people think. Bunch says this exhibition is a concrete example of how the museum explores the impact of culture.
“I also thought that in an era where we still don’t take enough embracement of the sort of strengths and contributions of black women I really wanted to sort of set out someone who I thought was one of the most influential people in the 20th century. I wanted to make sure her story was told,” Bunch says.
The museum curators who created the exhibition, Rhea Combs and Kathleen Kendrick, say they took a scholarly approach to Winfrey’s story. They asked how Winfrey’s experience could illustrate larger ideas around race, gender, media and the promise and opportunities that are available to Americans. They spoke to scholars in African-American, gender, media and religious studies and sociology from institutions ranging from Johns Hopkins University to Yale University to Spelman College to consider Winfrey's impact on global culture. But they begin by introducing Oprah Winfrey, the person.
“We wanted to help visitors understand ‘Where does Oprah come from?’ I mean she is such an icon and a presence. But she didn’t come out of a vacuum, “ Kendrick says. “She’s a woman, an African-American woman, born in 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. That had a huge impact on who she is, on her sense of upbringing. It really shaped an idea of who she could become, what her potential was.”
In the first segment of the exhibition, America Shapes Oprah, 1950s-1980s, visitors are immersed in the swirl of African-American culture and the immense social change Winfrey experienced growing up. There’s a dress worn by Diana Ross when she was with The Supremes, the costume Nichelle Nichols wore as Commander Uhura on “Star Trek,” as well as works by artist Elizabeth Catlett. There’s also the high school diploma of Carlotta Walls, one of the “Little Rock Nine” who integrated Arkansas’ Central High School in 1957, and images of female activists including Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first major party African-American woman to run for president. Amidst these are pictures from Winfrey’s childhood in that small Mississippi town, including one of her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who raised her. As she moved to Milwaukee and then to Nashville, we learn that Oprah Winfrey was profoundly affected by the working women in her life.
A 1975 advertisement for Eyewitness News at 10 (NMAAHC)
“You think about Dorothy Height, you think about Fannie Lou Hamer, you think about Shirley Chisholm. Then you think how she is growing up at a time when there is a black is beautiful sort of moment taking place in America,” curator Combs says. “I think there’s this beautiful sort of recognition that she’s not by herself in this instance, having conversations putting women forward, having conversations that talk about the importance of education, the importance of social justice. These are conversations that many black women have been having for some time.”
Both curators say this part of the exhibition connects visitors with Winfrey in her formative years, from her high school diaries to a scrapbook written in Winfrey’s distinctive cursive writing with multi-colored ink. They note that this part of the exhibition echoes themes that are found throughout the African American History Museum, including migration, integration, black entrepreneurs and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
“She has an ordinary life in a lot of ways, but she also has this almost kind of mythic quality to her life,” Kendrick says, noting that Winfrey was born in 1954, the year the Brown v. Board of Education case desegregated the nation’s schools. Winfrey’s mother, Vernita Lee, worked as a domestic servant in Milwaukee, where Winfrey attended integrated schools and also in Nashville, where her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a businessman and a church deacon. Oprah Winfrey ended up reading the news on a black radio station, WVOL, while she was still in high school, and attended college at historically black Tennessee State University.
“She is a dynamic person that has really been able to harness and leverage opportunities in a way that have then made her, and allowed her to connect with people in a way that really gets to the heart of what it means to be human, what it means to be a woman and what it means to be African-American,” says Combs.
Guest books signed in the "green room" at Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios (On loan from Harpo, Inc.) A Daytime Award presented to Oprah Winfrey in 1986 for Outstanding Talk/Service Show (On loan from Harpo, Inc.)
The next part of the exhibition, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” will set fans’ hearts aflutter with its mural of the 4,561 episodes of the show, which aired between 1986 and 2011. Clips from the show are played and there's a plethora of memorabilia. There are outfits she wore, including the size 10 jeans she fit into after dropping 67 pounds in 1988, along with the mirror she looked into every day before going on the air complete with a tube of Lancôme hand lotion, and the smoking jumpsuit she wore to perform with Tina Turner. There are even chairs from the studio, complete with the Kleenex boxes that sat underneath each seat, just in case—a detail that Winfrey loves, she says, because she and her staff were "intentionally thoughtful" about every single show.
“I love having actual pieces and scripts and notes that I’ve written on. . . like ‘No way am I doing this’ or whatever. I appreciate that it captures the process of what it took to build the show so that people will understand that there was real work involved,” Winfrey says. “I remember seeing something on the walls talking about how . . . producers were working 14- and 18-hour days which is true. It was like a machine, and being able to demonstrate all the work that went behind what looked like somebody just sitting down in a chair and talking, is important!”
“We were able to include some objects that I think people will like a lot, because they connect to familiar episodes like the car giveaway, for example, such a meme! We have a bow that was put on the cars, as well as the red suit she wears . . . and one of the keys that was used,” Kendrick laughs. But she adds that the topics Winfrey tackled, from racism to controversial rap lyrics from gender roles to sexuality, gave Winfrey a platform that has continued far beyond the boundaries of her television show. “She was on television for an hour a day, five days a week, and just the sheer cultural volume of her presence and the range of things that she did talk about, and how she established this very personal and intimate relationship with her audience . . . it had this interesting balance of ‘I’m like you, you know we have these common experiences. I’m every woman.’”
Winfrey was known not only for what she said, the curators explain, but for what people projected onto her, whether she was talking about the O.J. Simpson trial, or dealing with something as basic as being a dark-skinned African-American woman on television who was not a size zero. Winfrey addressed that on her show, giving a globally visible voice to so many other black women who had been ashamed of their appearance. Combs says that fact that Winfrey grappled with such issues connected her deeply with others who were going through the same struggles.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Oprah Winfrey by President Barack Obama in 2013 (On loan from Harpo, Inc.)
“What appealed to folks was that she was just able to chart this journey and tell people ‘I’m on it,’ and then other people would be able to connect and relate to that,” Combs explains, adding that Winfrey was basically saying: My work, my drive, my curiosity, my ability to connect with people is going to allow you even for an hour to push past all of those other isms. So, one had to look past the weight, look past the color, past the fact that she is a woman and get to the meat of the matter. So, I think this is one of those messages that one can take away from the fact that she very publically did not fit the mold.’”
But none of that stopped Winfrey from becoming the nation’s first self-made African-American female billionaire. She’s won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, won seven Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show Host, and there’s even been talk that she should run for president after her speech upon winning the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. Winfrey is also an accomplished actress, from her Oscar-nominated performance in the 1985 movie The Color Purple, to her most recent role in A Wrinkle in Time.” So just how has this philanthropist, entrepreneur and cultural icon shaped America? Both curators say her influence spreads far beyond the U.S.A. The show won 48 Daytime Emmy awards, and was watched by millions in 145 countries. Winfrey won a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
“I actually had a chance to go through the exhibition with someone from Uganda, and she was saying how they had The Oprah Winfrey Show in Uganda that was on every Sunday,” Kendrick recalls. “She said after the show started airing in her country, there was this explosion of talk shows in Uganda. We’ll have very personal connections to the content in different ways and we use the title “Watching Oprah” on purpose. . . .I hope that people coming through this exhibition see Oprah Winfrey as not just this static icon but that they see her as a force for change.”
Part of the exhibition is called “Oprah Shapes America,” a look at Winfrey’s global influence and the phenomenon known as “The Oprah Effect.” Her ability to affect public opinion, and people’s life choices, has long been a matter of debate. But Winfrey herself thinks that is one of the ways she has helped shape this nation.
First-graders in 2002 define "Who is Oprah?" in a book of their artworks (On loan from Harpo, Inc.)
“I live this incredible life where there is not a day that goes by that if I am in public someplace, people don’t come up and say ‘I watched you. I like you.’ They come up to me and they say ‘I love you and this is why,’” Winfrey muses. “’You changed me. You helped me. . . . I left a bad marriage. I decided not to have children, or to have children, or decided not to hit my children anymore.’”
Winfrey jokes that it would be easy to sit on her laurels—now that she's got an exhibition—but she says she will continue to use her voice in ways she thinks will make a difference. Once, she says, she thought her biggest legacy would be the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls that she founded in South Africa. But Winfrey says her friend, the late poet, actress and civil rights activists Maya Angelou told her she was wrong.
“She said ‘You have no idea what your legacy is, because your legacy is every life you have touched and every human being who ever watched the show,’” Winfrey recalls. “I received the highest honor in the land, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, . . . I will say for sure, if anybody wants to know, there is no higher honor than this (exhibition.) Drop the mic. Take down the stage.”
“Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture,” is on display June 8, 2018 through June 30, 2019 at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Costume designed by Aggie Guerard Rodgers for Oprah Winfrey's performance in the 1985 film The Color Purple. (On loan from Western Costume Co.)
About Allison Keyes
Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can currently be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts.
Oprah Winfrey Received A Presidential Medal Of Freedom
Arguably, Oprah Winfrey’s highest honor came from former president Barack Obama who, in 2013, awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to online archives from Obama’s White House term, among that year’s 15 other recipients was Bill Clinton - a key element of the Child Protection Act and one of the great philanthropic acts which helped earn Winfrey the Medal.
Oprah Winfrey's emotional first look at Smithsonian exhibit honoring her legacy
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is opening a new exhibit this week called "Watching Oprah ." It is a celebration of Oprah Winfrey's legacy. "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King &ndash and best friend to Winfrey &ndash previewed the 4,300-square-foot exhibit with her and the museum's director Lonnie Bunch on Wednesday.
"How many people are alive who get exhibits?" That's what Winfrey asked King as the two walked through her new Smithsonian exhibition for the very first time. It showcases the artists that shaped her and the culture she changed forever. Winfrey is receiving this rare honor for her extraordinary impact on the millions of viewers around the world who tuned in weekly for more than two decades.
Oprah Winfrey, museum director Lonnie Bunch and "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King look at footage from early on in Winfrey's career. CBS News
Below are some of the moments from their tour:
"Born at the right time"
Winfrey was born in 1954 -- the year of the landmark Supreme Court school case Brown v. Board of Education .
"I often say this. I was born at the right time. I was born when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, even though things didn't turn around immediately, it was a sense of hope and change," Winfrey said.
"Basically what we've got here is how the world shaped you. So we really frame the Civil Rights era," museum director Lonnie Bunch explained. "What I love though is to both give people the sense of how you were not only shaped by that, but also how you were shaped by the media."
The exhibit features a page from Oprah Winfrey's journal CBS News
A page from Oprah's journal
The exhibit features a page from Winfrey's journal written the night before "The Oprah Winfrey Show" made its national debut.
"Exactly eight hours before the national first show. I keep wondering how my life will change. If it will change. What all this means. Why have I been so blessed? Maybe going national was to help me realize that I have an important work or that this work is important. I just know that I must be pressed to the work of the high calling," Winfrey read from the entry.
"You wrote that the night before? That's what you were thinking?" King remarked. What she would have written? "Hope it works."
You get a car!
Perhaps the most iconic episode from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" features its host surprising an entire studio audience with the keys to brand new cars. The moment has become a pop culture staple, immortalized by countless memes and gifs.
"I do remember the night before you were trying to decide what to wear," King recalled.
"I wanted a color that would match the bows on the car," Winfrey said. "There was a lot of thought put in that."
Oprah Winfrey and Lonnie Bunch CBS News
Inspiring the next generation
"Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King inspired my decision to become a journalist," King read from a book with messages from visitors to the exhibit.
Another reads, "Oprah brought my family together, we would all crowd around the TV to watch a woman do what we could only dream of doing. She gave me hope. That I too can be on TV, a strong black woman like her."
And the message that made Winfrey want to cry: "Oprah Winfrey is the reason I love myself so fiercely and know that my voice matters."
"The bottom line is, this was your gift and our gift to America. And so we want to thank you for doing just that. It means a lot to us," Bunch said.
The "Watching Oprah" exhibit opens to the public on Friday, June 8.
When Oprah Was On
Today marks the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Has it been a net gain or loss for American culture? National Review Online asked some discerning culture watchers.
Back in 2002, I wrote an article for The Women’s Quarterly in which I deemed Oprah Winfrey “A-O-Kay.” Sure, I found her “O-dious” liberal politics a trial: always Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her show and never Sandra Day O’Connor (although, to be fair, Oprah did invite Condoleezza Rice). And why did a woman raised in the ardent Christianity of her beloved grandmother feel compelled to host every peddler of New Age woo to wander across her TV stage?
Still, I found many reasons to like Oprah Winfrey. I liked the way she had, through brains and guts, transcended a ghastly childhood that featured a promiscuous mother and a pregnancy at age 14 whose culmination was the death of her newborn son. I liked that her father, Vernon Winfrey, stepped into this farrago with tough love and curfews to turn his daughter into an A-student and avid reader. I liked Oprah’s warm, real personality underneath the carapace of stagey glitz — and her interviewees responded similarly. I liked the good taste and high standards that she and her magazine, O, fostered. Above all, I liked the classy way she dealt with that overhyped brat-author, Jonathan Franzen, gently disinviting him from her show after he pronounced it “schmaltzy.”
But as nine years passed since my article, the distressing aspects of Oprah Winfrey became more pronounced, to the point that they began to crowd out the aspects I admired. The politics — couldn’t she have admired Barack Obama’s drive to become America’s first black president without becoming his shill? The New Age stuff — what was this with “The Secret”? Even Oprah’s once-lovely clothes took a turn toward the over-the-top. Her show began to slip ever so slightly but ever so inexorably downward in the ratings. I wish Oprah well, but I think that that the shrewdest decision that she has made in her shrewdly designed career was to quit when she could at least maintain the illusion that she was ahead.
—Charlotte Allen is writer in Washington, D.C.
The influence of Oprah Winfrey’s TV show on American culture this quarter century has been vast and transformative, for good (some) and ill (more).
In 1986, the nation’s daytime sob-sister of note was Phil Donohue, whose often emotional, personal, “new, sensitive male” shtick was easily dismissed in Ronald Reagan’s America, where manly virtues and style had not been entirely deconstructed and metro-sexualized. You could still envision a good man who was strong but silent. Crying was a career ender, and over-sharing was not done by serious people.
Enter Oprah. Her personal confessions, tears, and overflowing emotions (delivered articulately enough to suggest preparation), changed the style of casual discourse — and, ultimately, political speech too.
Of course, the feminization of American culture had been underway for a century, episodically, before she showed up. Historian Ann Douglas had ascribed it (partly) to an alliance between victimized women and preachers, attempting to sissify a rugged pioneer culture (e.g. Prohibition or the peace movement).
On her show, Oprah got to be the hurt woman and the preacher. She talked about depression, weight, and sexual abuse, in a manner familiar to women from the intense, intimate confidences of deep female friendship. Those agonies and confessions won the love and allegiance of millions of American women, who were a little lost at whatever point in their lives they were home, watching. It worked because, in the same show, she’d go from victim to healer, offering a female version of the deeply American boot-strapper archetype.
The triumph of her style has helped de-stigmatize real victimization — which is a clear good. Alas, it has made life that much harder for conservatives and others who prefer the rational to the emotional, who don’t think that understanding necessarily equals forgiveness, and who think that there are constraints to material reality, even if there aren’t with love and forgiveness.
— Lisa Schiffren is a writer in New York.
Glenn T. Stanton
I can’t believe what I am about to do. As a white, evangelical, politically and theologically conservative male, I am going to effusively praise Oprah Winfrey.
Yes, she is a cohabiting, syncretizing, spiritual freelancer who thought Barack Obama was “The One.”. But I do think her show has been a wholesale benefit to American culture.
First, she was never Jerry Springer. She never used her guests. Unlike Donahue, she didn’t scoff at faith. She was civil, the only interviewer not on Fox to give President Bush a respectful interview on his book tour. She got people to believe in their abilities and possibilities without being a paper-thin prosperity-gospel preacher. As a father of four daughters, I like that she is a confident leader who is secure in her womanhood. She got lots of people reading decent books. She cared about her brand, making sure it was pro-community and mostly family-friendly.
And these are all good things for our culture, even if we strongly disagree on bigger issues.
— Glenn T. Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and author of Secure Daughters, Confident Sons.
Most Americans know Oprah Winfrey is liberal — and those who ever questioned it got a dose of reality in the last presidential election. What many people don’t know is that Oprah is not content to just be liberal — she wants to make America liberal, too. That’s what her 25-year run was all about.
There are two left-wing mantras Oprah lives by, and she repeats them often. One is that when people know better, they do better — which implies that education is all people need to make good decisions. The second is that all people are inherently good. In a recent interview about OWN, her new network, Oprah reiterated her philosophy “I’m concerned about the bigger overall picture: my belief that people are basically good.”
In addition to swearing by these mantras, Oprah kneels at the altar of moral relativism — where people determine for themselves what is morally right based on how they feel about it. To Oprah, the only commandment that matters is the one she and the media elite made up: Thou Shalt Not Judge.
This worldview — that education is the answer to ethical behavior, that all people are intrinsically good, that morality is subjective — is what Oprah’s programs are built upon. Her goal isn’t to expose actual truth — but truth as she sees it. As Kitty Kelley writes in her biography, something Oprah used to say was, “I am the instrument of God. I am his messenger. My show is my ministry.”
So as the Hollywood elite say a tearful goodbye to their personal God, Americans should keep Oprah’s influence in perspective. Behind every Oprah Winfrey Show was a goal: to promote a leftist point of view. It was planned. It was orchestrated. And, unfortunately, it was successful.
We’ve loved her through the skinny years, the fat years, the marathon training, the Mad Cow disease hamburger controversy, and the Tom Cruise couch performance. Oprah made us laugh, made us cry, introduced us to Spanx, and gave away cars.
The problem is that when Americans fall in love, we sometimes fall too hard. As anyone who has ever fallen too hard in love can tell you, smitten lovers run the risk of losing all sense of discernment and perspective.
Those of us who loved Oprah’s show for its food reviews, parenting tips, and fashion advice might not have noticed that her advice did not stop at the material. Especially in her show’s later years, Oprah wanted to feed our souls.
When we weren’t looking, Oprah transformed her image into something close to a spiritual icon. Her book recommendations included not only chick-lit fiction titles, but New Age spiritual resources. Her show’s tagline became “Live Your Best Life Now,” a directive that included a spirituality based on the works of New Age notables Marriane Williamson, Betty Eadie, and Sophy Burnham, among others.
In every human heart there is a void — a longing for emotional happiness, personal fulfillment, and spiritual wholeness. Our empty, aching hearts are made for communion with our Creator. Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, can make us whole.
Oprah is a funny, smart, charismatic, and real American woman who has found commercial success by tapping into a human need for “soul food.” When popular culture feeds us New Age mumbo-jumbo, feel-good speak, and words of affirmation, we might be temporarily satiated, but in the end we come away empty again.
Oprah fills our hearts and minds with fleeting feelings. Only Christ can feed our souls.
Was Oprah good or bad for American culture? Well, over the past 25 years, there have been a lot of different Oprahs to consider. First there was the sensational tabloid Oprah who was in the TV trash-talk “shock and awe” business. Then there was the dieting Oprah, who starved and gained, making her own weight-loss struggle a relatable national obsession. There has also always been the acquisitive girlie “shop and never drop” Oprah, who seemed to be continually demonstrating that unbridled retail therapy was the real happy ending of her success story.
But maybe most concerning was the self-help Oprah, the role she has played for the past decade, who has heard every confession and embraced all victims, whether or not they were truly victims at all. She certainly has contributed to making many women in this country, with all their opportunities, feel that their lives are really oh-so hard, and they are victims too.
Along the way, she has promoted a score of self-help phonies and also offered her audience a slew of semi-crackpot medical notions. And is she politically biased? Yes, oh, yes. Did she help elect Obama? Yes, oh, yes. But when George W. Bush kissed her, it helped him, too.
A great positive was her love of reading, which has made millions pick up books. Of course, most of the books she liked were unremitting tales of woe about women as victims. Still there are book clubs all over reading and discussing because of Oprah.
Most important of all, she changed ideas about race in this country. Twenty five years ago when she first came on the scene it would have been impossible to imagine that the richest, most admired, and most influential woman in America would be a portly, middle-aged African-American. So much of America will be tuning in today to the last Oprah show to watch her take the bow that, by-and-large, she deserves.
— Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge.com.
Oprah’s 25-year run has unfortunately been a net negative on American culture. When her show first began in 1986, she presented herself as a God-fearing woman who was concerned about the challenges facing everyday Americans, be they trivial or more consequential. As her popularity and personal wealth increased, she seemed to veer away from the practical and toward what she called the “spiritual.” This is where she lost me and many others. Yes, we share her belief that we are powerful and can change the world, but we recognize that there is more at play than our own willingness to seek change. Oprah became irrelevant to most of us when her religious faith seemed to be supplanted by New Age mysticism.
I do feel a certain amount of empathy for Oprah, however, as her world necessarily became insular as her fame grew. Perhaps this burden of hers will be eased as she steps away from daily television, and she’ll be afforded the opportunity to reconnect with the things that we used to love about Oprah. It’s time for the Church of Oprah to close forever.
Despite the truly admirable, even inspiring, rags-to-riches story Oprah Winfrey can tell, and despite having done some important and moving shows in her time, I count her influence as a net negative on American culture. When people speak pejoratively of the “Oprahfication” of an idea or phenomenon, they mean that many in the public have come to see the thing primarily through emotional, therapeutic eyes. Take the show she broadcast on Islam three weeks after 9/11. I wrote about it on NRO at the time, criticizing Oprah harshly for her propagandistic whitewashing of unpleasant realities in contemporary Islam. She encouraged viewers not to think about what Islam stood for, but rather to feel positive towards Islam, and therefore to deny anything that countered this preferred narrative. At her worst, this is what Oprah is about: the triumph of the therapeutic, a phrase coined in the 1960s by sociologist Philip Rieff, to describe the culture then coming into being — a culture that seeks a sense of peace and well-being as its primary goal. By no means did this mindset start with Oprah, but she became its avatar without peer.
I’m an occasional Oprah Winfrey Show watcher (there, I said it!). While I detest the term “middle-of-the-road,” that’s where I am on the question of Oprah’s impact on American culture.
Among the positives: She has encouraged reading and healthy eating, and she’s no secularist God is a topic she’s not afraid to discuss. Unlike other talk-show hosts, she doesn’t exploit her guests for ratings. And thankfully, Oprah hasn’t added to the increasing level of cynicism that has entered the national dialogue.
However, her negatives are real doozies. There’s no denying that Oprah has created a nation of self-regarding, self-pitying group-thinkers who rely on her and her army of specially selected experts for everything.
Need medical advice? Ask Oprah’s in-house physician, Doctor Oz. Need financial advice? Ask Oprah’s in-house financial advisor Suzy Orman. Decorating advice? There’s cute-as-a-button Nate Burkus. Nutrition and exercise? Oprah’s personal trainer Bob Greene’s there to help. Counseling? Don’t forget Dr. Phil. There is not much disagreement between Oprah and these experts — their opinions stand as the unchallenged truth.
What these group-thinkers will do after Oprah’s show goes off the air is beyond me. Perhaps they’ll start thinking for themselves . . . until the next Oprah comes along.
— Julie Gunlock, a former congressional staffer, is now a stay-at-home mom.
There are two noticeable camps of opinion on Oprah Winfrey’s show: the everyday fans (I have one in my house) and the more distant critics. To fans, Winfrey was a regular force for good, reinforcing human decency, compassion, and respect for “diversity.” In recent years, Oprah too eagerly promoted the lives of “sex workers” and supportively interviewed porn-superstar Jenna Jameson.
To critics, Winfrey’s show strongly pushed society in a libertine direction. Facts could suffer. Few remember now how Winfrey frightened so many in 1987 by claiming very wrongly that “research” showed that “one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS” by 1990. Oprah celebrated Ellen DeGeneres coming out and championed Thomas Beatie as a “pregnant man” on her show, having a “normal” and “average” pregnancy.
Oprah’s new cable network, OWN, is also strongly pushing the libertine line. OWN has already aired a documentary exploring the sexual transformation of “Chaz” Bono and a film from Lisa Ling touting a camp where children “can feel accepted as both gay and Christian . . . The Naming Project is the first Bible camp of its kind, perhaps the first place in history where worship sessions come after a diva contest.”
No one beats Oprah Winfrey in a diva contest.
— Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway
If you support the widespread practice of pseudo-confessional but ultimately self-justifying defensiveness, the unleashing of hayseed morons such as Dr. Phil and trust-fund prevaricators such as James Frey, the spreading the New Age teachings of “The Secret” and normalization of a generic spirituality that views all religions as equally truthful, and encouraging grab-bag materialism over time-honored virtue, there is no question that Oprah Winfrey has had a net positive on American culture.
While I can count on one hand the number of times I tuned in to watch Oprah, and those few times were prompted by urgent e-mails — “Tune into Oprah today, she’s doing a show on sperm donation!” — one would need to have lived in a cave for the past three decades to not know who Oprah is, what Oprah does (she gave new meaning to the acronym S.W.A.G.), and how much weight she could throw around no matter if she was up or down on her bathroom scale. Clear enough is the plain and simple fact: People want leaders and are willing to follow. Oprah has left a carbon footprint that would cause Al Gore to lose sleep the rest of his days. I imagine the first one brave enough to attempt to fill that gap will be heavily scrutinized, but make no mistake, someone will replace Oprah and become the next kingmaker.
Oprah’s run has to be seen as a net positive, if only because her success is one of the premier examples of someone who has lived the American dream, rising from literally wearing bags for dresses to becoming arguably the most influential woman in the world.
Her popularization of the talk show as national group-therapy session, including the inferior copycats her show spawned, helped America get in touch with its feelings, for better and for worse, and spawned an Oprahfied president when Bill Clinton famously felt our pain on his road to the White House. Thanks to Oprah, we are also more likely to see, and expect to see, public officials treat the airwaves as a confessional.
I believe that, by and large, she did a great service for American literacy with her book club. Some of her book selections were not the greatest pieces of literature, but I will never forget the first time I felt the power of her club when I walked into a Borders and saw John Steinbeck’s classic novel East of Eden on their bestseller list. Taking a book most people have only read because they were forced to do so in high school and turning it into a national bestseller: now that’s power!
— Michael Leaser is an associate of The Clapham Group. He is also the editor of FilmGraceand a correspondent for World.
Oprah Winfrey certainly can be a role model for many women who pursued their dreams relentlessly and made it to the top of their field, but the way she has affected the culture of this country as a whole has been mixed. Oprah has done some important work. She was one of the first in media to sound the alarm on the issue of child predators on the Internet. I applaud her valiant efforts to toughen laws against pedophiles in general. In addition, she often told parents hard truths regarding promiscuity among teens, and looked for opportunities to help kids all over the world.
However, I question her judgment on the issues of homosexual “marriage,” economics, and religion. She praised Ellen DeGeneres and Porta de Rossi for their “marriage” and said that Michael Moore’s work “resonated” with her. Although she claims to be a Christian, she endorsed all kinds of New Age worship and claimed that “God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience.” According to the Culture and Media Institute, who put together the “Worst of Oprah” list, the host not only campaigned for then-senator Barack Obama, famously proclaiming him “The One,” but actively attacked Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol. Most women have enjoyed an afternoon with Oprah.
— Penny Nance is chief executive officer of Concerned Women for America.
Marcia Z. Nelson
Assessing Oprah’s influence on the culture is like reading the Bible: There are some bits you really, really like, and some others that are unpalatable, but there’s no ignoring the book. I really, really like her emphasis on education, literacy, and women’s issues. Putting 64,000 people through school (a stat from the show) is a lot more than any single family can boast. Making Leo Tolstoy a bestseller in 21st-century America is no mean feat. Women around the world have benefited from Oprah’s interest. My book has been translated into Indonesian and Korean Oprah has an audience far beyond America. What’s not to like? To name a few: excess, too many celebrities, a two-part farewell show, too many favorite things. My own favorite Oprah was pre-mogul. Still, anybody who shows up for work for 25 years deserves a watch. Oprah gets a Hermes for each wrist. She does deserve that for reminding the culture that listening is an affordable gift that returns something to the giver, a message she has preached and practiced.
With Oprah’s departure from network television, the entertainment industry loses one of its icons. Fortunately, it also loses one of its most biased commentators, the Dan Rather of emotion-driven daytime talk. Oprah’s politics became crystal clear during the 2008 election, when she leveraged her tremendous popularity to support Barack Obama and drive him into office, then refused to have Sarah Palin on, because she didn’t want to “use my show as a platform for any of the candidates.” But her political leftism extends further back than that. Beginning in 2003, she used her bully pulpit to target President Bush and the war in Iraq, going so far as to show anti-Bush clips from Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, then sweetly informing her audience, “It resonated with a lot of people, me included.” Oprah has also used her vast audience as a club against social conservatism, pushing the gay-rights movement since the 1980s (most famously appearing in cameo in the coming-out episode of Ellen). Among her other “accomplishments,” Oprah has also nearly bankrupted the U.S. beef industry attacked a store as racist for not letting her in near closing time presented the world with liar James Frey legitimized Jenny McCarthy’s nutty linkage between vaccination and autism the list goes on and on. The biggest problem with Oprah is her cult-like leadership of her audience — whatever she says, goes. Plastic surgeon Dr. V. Leroy Young explained the phenomenon well in 2006: “If she told viewers that arsenic would make them beautiful, we’d be getting hundreds of calls from people asking us for arsenic.” At her best, Oprah was entertaining and informative, bringing millions of people closer to literature through her book club or awakening them to medical possibilities. At her worst, Oprah was a Lonesome Rhodes type, rejecting reason in favor of emotion and leading her followers by the nose to her political and social conclusions. Overall, good riddance.
While some intellectual elites, both conservative and liberal, might sneer at the ordinariness of The Oprah Winfrey Show, I think her show has done a great deal to counter many of the negative influences in our culture.
Unlike many other shows, Oprah and her guests engaged in reasonable, if pointed, dialogue. Her show has also been a vehicle for addressing serious issues, including child abuse, domestic violence, sex crimes, and various addictions. Unfortunately, these realities are part of many people’s lives they need resources, including the language to talk about a problem that might otherwise remain unknown.
Her promotion of New Age tenets, unfortunately, has caused confusion for some people. She could have done a much better job focusing on her other winning topics.
Do I wish Oprah had tackled some of the more challenging issues like abortion? Sure. In fact, I think she could have been a uniquely strong voice to at least start a conversation about the topic. But I think it’s important to focus on the overall positive impact of her show. Her very demeanor communicated to women a much higher standard of self respect that we find in so many other venues of public life.
Frankly, I’m not overly optimistic about the programming that will replace her show.
— Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian. She writes and travels for speaking engagements from Seattle, Washington.
It would be easy to criticize the woman who secured the celebrity of fabulist James Frey and offered her imprimatur to the gnomish New Agey musings of Eckhart Tolle. After all of these years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, however, I find I’m still a fan. In a democracy as cacophonous as ours, we need cultural arbiters. True, the zeal with which Oprah exhorted her viewers to achieve “your best life” by eating right, exercising more, and journaling their way to emotional health usually made me want to take a nap. But in one arena — reading — Oprah’s force was benevolent and unparalleled. Oprah started her Book Club with her feet planted firmly in the middlebrow her reading list was heavy on therapeutic fiction and memoir. But since 2003, when she revived the Book Club after a hiatus, she has chosen classic literature, “great books that have stood the test of time,” as she calls them, and that many of her viewers likely haven’t cracked open since high-school English class. Although I remain agnostic on the usefulness of Dr. Phil for our cultural health, let no unkind words be spoken about the woman who persuaded Americans to read Faulkner, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Steinbeck.
— Christine Rosen is senior editor of The New Atlantis.
I confess, I have only ever watched perhaps three Oprah episodes in their entirety, and two of them were about the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich., a religious group that Oprah gave enormous exposure to, and a helpful dollop of goodwill. Perhaps the paradox of Oprah is that she had the power, reach, and influence to do a lot of good or to mislead people into silliness. I think for the most part, she landed in the middle — probably because people have only so much appetite for being led. In the end, even if they’ve been brought to water, a few sips always seems to settle their internal meters either toward or away from whatever shiny idea first caught their attention. To her credit, Oprah seemed to know that and to be able to adjust accordingly, which is why — in the end — she was probably a net positive to America. If she carried on a bit too much about “favorite things,” she was also genuinely interested (and generous in promoting) the very anti-materialistic lives of others. Of course, helping elect President Obama may ultimately tip the scales away from the plus side . . .
— Elizabeth Scalia is the managing editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos, and a columnist at First Things.
Oprah Winfrey has been to this generation what Timothy Leary was to the Sixtiescrowd, whose children are among her most devoted followers. And “followers,” or maybe “disciples,” is the right word. She is a messianic figure whose image is everywhere, most notably (when not on TV) on the cover of her O magazine. Some women apparently do not make a decision without thinking WWOD? (What would Oprah do?)
She forgives without requiring repentance and, by doing so, she is the she-god for our time. We need only worship at the shrine of Oprah. She requires nothing more of us. We may live as we wish (as she does with her “boyfriend,” to whom she is not married). She judges not, lest she be judged. Oprah makes her viewers feel good, which is the objective of our age.
Oprah Winfrey did more to impose President Obama on America than perhaps any other person, save Obama himself. She was especially influential with women (of course). She did some very good shows on abuse, encouraging women to speak up about it and for men to be held accountable. Celebrity guests wanted to do her show more than any other. Authors knew Oprah was their ticket to a bestseller if she spoke well of their book.
Oprah was very public about her challenges with her weight. She went up and down, as most of us do, and ultimately became comfortable with the body in which she found herself.
One of my favorite Oprah shows was the one in which she gave away cars (donated by GM) to women who said they were in desperate need of one and who had been performing good works of some sort or another. In a perfect example of the entitlement mentality of our age, some of the women complained they had to pay taxes on the car. Apparently they thought Oprah should have picked up the tax tab.
There have been other media icons who defined decades, even generations. Milton Berle defined the Fifties and Johnny Carson spanned three decades — an incredible feat in TV. Oprah’s viewers will decide whether she can continue her miraculous career on her own cable network, OWN. People move on. New celebrities are created. Can she last? Nobody lasts. But in the history of television, Oprah Winfrey made history and a lot of money. Some of that money was used to do very good things to improve the lives of quite a few people. No one can deny her the approval and adulation that came from those acts of kindness and generosity. “Fame, if you win it, comes and goes in a minute” goes the song, which then says “Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to.” On more than one occasion, Oprah Winfrey pointed women to “real stuff” and urged them to cling to it. Amidst the celebrity and the fluff, that is her legacy.