It's another beginning!

It's another beginning!

It's another beginning!

The famous couch that has rested many famous backsides — from Barack Obama to Tom Cruise to Aishwarya Rai (counting only the most glamourous), is to fold up shortly. Holding back tears, Oprah Winfrey recently told her studio audience that she would end her famous and unimaginably popular talk show in 2011 after a quarter-century on the air. Prayer and careful thought, she said, had led her to her decision. Tears have been an intrinsic part of the Oprah magic.

Her rags to riches tale — born into poverty in rural Mississippi, rape victim at nine, pregnant at 14 and eventually richest African American of the 20th century at 50 plus — can wet eyes easily enough. Actually, so can the heroine of that fascinating story, by herself.

In fact, tear-jerking powers are believed to be one of the reasons she so easily dislodged the king of talk shows — Phil Donahue — from his pedestal when she first showed up as a talk show host in January 1984 on AM Chicago, a half-hour morning show that hardly anybody watched. It was the knack for finding the raw nerve of her interviewees and sandpapering it till they cried, often weeping alongside in empathy, that took a nobody from Mississippi who wore gunny bag dresses in childhood because she couldn’t afford frocks so far, so fast that she soon became the most influential woman in the world.

 Within months, her show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour, and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986. And in a world dominated by white male talk show hosts, she became the first black, amply endowed woman hostess viewers so easily fell in love with.
The style she is credited which helped create a more intimate confessional form of media communication, in the times when a colder form of the tabloid talk show genre was the done thing. Her sensitive, I’m ready to confess and cry with you interviewing broke 20th century taboos (according to a Yale study), allowed people to confess their weaknesses and minorities like gay and lesbians to enter the mainstream. No wonder then that the powerhouse show became the foundation for her multibillion-dollar media empire.
 One famous Indian celebrity who appeared on her show has been Aishwarya Rai who has put in two appearances — once alone and the second time as Mrs Bachchan with husband Abhishek. They were introduced as the world’s most famous movie-star couple, “more famous than Brad and Angelina.” What amused Oprah the most was “they live with his parents.” When she got around to the question “You live with your parents. How does that work?” Abhishek answered: “You live without your family? How does that work?” And even as the Indian contingent in the audience cheered, he added. “It’s absolutely natural to us.”

How has she influenced Indian television journalism? Shades of Oprah’s “you cry and I cry with you” style can be seen in the interviewing technique used by Barkha ‘Kargil’ Dutt. Shades of her “I was born to change the world” sincerity reflects sometimes in Arnab Goswami’s flashing glasses and moral outrage. Her “I’m your soulmate — don’t I complete your sentences” passion sometimes flashes in Rajdeep Sardesai’s insolent stares.

But other than that Indian television does not have an Oprah, unless you would like to consider Rakhi Sawant’s fluctuating weight, Koel Puri’s witty rejoinders or style borrowed by many of the other uncles and aunties of Indian television. Or even the tears that glisten delicately on Simi Garewal’s limpid eyes when a celeb breaks down on her show. “You weep and I’ll stroke your hand” certainly has shades of Oprah. But not really. You’d never catch Simi making dark confessions on television. She is as pure as driven snow. Which is probably why she wears white.

Recent years have seen Oprah’s show ratings slip by seven per cent. So maybe it is a smart move to shut shop and move on. Oprah is not retiring.
She is widely expected to start up a new talk show on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a much-delayed 50-50 joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc. that is projected to debut in January 2011 in some 80 million homes. The show might be closing but obviously for its teary-eyed hostess, it’s just another beginning. Bring on the new couch. Ouch!