Oprah to break free from living rooms world over

Oprah to break free from living rooms world over


Oprah to break free from living rooms world over

Oprah Winfrey. Reuters

On Thursday, she told her 600 staff in Chicago that ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ would end in September 2011. That will be its 25th season, after it was first broadcast to the US in 1986.  Since then, the show has grown to become the most successful talkshow in syndication, with about seven million viewers each day. Winfrey’s own standing has risen with it — confirmed last year when she became a key figure behind the political success of Barack Obama.

Tim Bennett, president of her production company Harpo (Oprah spelt backwards), wrote to advertisers on the syndicated show to say: “Tomorrow (Friday), Oprah will announce that she has decided to end what is arguably one of the most popular, influential and enduring programmes in television history.”

Oprah Winfrey Network

It soon became clear, however, that the announcement would not represent Winfrey’s demise as a media superstar so much as her metamorphosis under a new guise. The most credible explanation for her decision to close such a fabulously successful programme was that she intends to transfer her energies to her own forthcoming cable channel.

The channel, appropriately called OWN for the Oprah Winfrey Network, is expected to launch in January 2011.

In its 23 years, ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ has dominated daytime television and turned its presenter into not just a celebrity, but a brand in her own right. A sign of its cultural hegemony is that it can be understandably referred to with the use of a single letter — O.

On the back of it, Winfrey has come to be a major presence in book publishing, through her book club, and even in cinema, as was demonstrated this month with the release of the film ‘Precious’, which she co-produced.

She has by coincidence or design made the bombshell announcement at a very opportune moment. Her hour-long interview with Sarah Palin this week pushed her ratings up to a two-year high.

Her show’s success has also depended on her ability to pierce through the PR armour of celebrities and reveal inner conflicts. Most famously, Tom Cruise displayed another side of himself when in May 2005 he hopped around the set declaring his love for Katie Holmes. In 1993, Michael Jackson appeared on the show to denounce his critics and declare he had the skin pigment disorder vitiligo.

Yet Winfrey also covered regular stories of ordinary people surviving extraordinary catastrophes.

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