Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The curtain falls but Oprah's still in the spotlight

AP Photo/Charlie Knoblock
In this Dec. 18, 1985 photo, TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey relaxes in her studio office following a morning broadcast in Chicago, Ill. Winfrey came to Chicago in 1984 to WLS-TV's morning talk show, "A.M. Chicago." A month later the show was No. 1 in the market. A year later it was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Stevie Wonder, below, performs during a double-taping of "Suprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular." The Oprah WInfrey Show" is sending its run today, after 25 years.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Woe is me, the procrastinator. For years, I promised my good friend Patricia that I would travel with her to Chicago and endure the long line for tickets so that she could check off another wish on her bucket list: see Oprah in person.
Sorry, Patti.
Today marks the last episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." 
I would like to blame someone or something for the missed opportunity, maybe a TV executive or the lack of time, but that would be remiss on my part. The show has been on the air since Sept. 8, 1986.
The first national episode was titled, "How to Marry the Man/Woman of Your Choice."
It was around that time that both Patti and I were still finishing school and launching our careers, she as a teacher, and I as a reporter. I can't say that the topic of marriage was of interest. But Oprah's basic persona, that genuine concern for people, enthusiasm for life, and go-girl, bullish demeanor that no doubt allowed her to break the barriers and achieve the goals she set, got our attention.
She became a role model, not only to aspiring young women working on their careers, but to others at the end of theirs, and homemakers, moms, dads, teens and children. After 25 seasons, 30,000 guests, a million studio audience members (minus 2), her legion of viewers extended to 150 countries. Is there any other TV show that earned 48 Emmys and the Kennedy Center Honors or any other female African American billionaire? 
That same go-girl enthusiasm that we admired, however, also made her the subject of criticism.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
You could say that she used her daytime platform to get rich, but it is through her show and production company (with projects in film, TV and XM satellite radio), and glossy national magazine (with 2 million subscribers), that she's been able to employ thousands, raise $80 million for charity and build a school for needy girls in South Africa.
Sure, the influence that Oprah has is a little scary. I thought the O-list of favorites was way overboard, but when has it really been a bad thing? 
Just ask the turkey supplier from East Texas, what it meant to be named to the list. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, it totaled at least $1 million in sales.
As a writer and book lover, I also have to applaud her. I read Faulkner in college. She read Faulkner to the world, and through her book club, not only restored many classics to the bestseller list, but became a lifeline to unknown talent drowning in the slosh pile of unread manuscripts.
Today's taped finale will be show No. 4,561.
Her audiences have met the famous and non-famous guests who showed there's no shame in being homeless, the victim of rape, or trying to lose weight, again. And then there were the giveaway shows where she showered guests with expensive gifts, including cars and trips.
I understand why people do not like Oprah, but I have to agree with my friend.
How can you fault someone who is trying so hard to help people?
We have our bucket list.
She has the O-list.

I am where I am because of the bridges I have crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madam C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge - Oprah Winfrey

Keep a grateful journal. Every night, list five things that you are grateful for. What it will begin to do is change your perspective of your day and your life - Oprah Winfrey

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