When I was a Mass Communications major at MTSU, my aspiration was to be the next Phil Donahue. For various reasons, that didn't happen. Maybe I was just dreaming too small. Oprah Winfrey came along and eclipsed everything Donahue ever accomplished. And now, after 25 years, she is giving up the centerpiece of her empire, the syndicated "Oprah Winfrey Show," to concentrate on launching cable's Oprah Winfrey Network.
Yes, Oprah is a huge phenomenon (viewers in 140 countries have uttered the phrase "Poor emasculated Stedman"), but there's a lot of irony in the broadcast TV industry hysteria over the September 2011 end of her series. Stations have traditionally relied on her program as a lead-in to the 5 o'clock local news. In other words, the great motivator, the preacher of empowerment, is exploited to get viewers to keep their butts glued to the seat and indiscriminately watch whatever drivel comes on after "Oprah."
One website claimed that men between the ages of 30 and 50 hate Oprah. I think that's a bit harsh. Men just feel a bit squeamish about all the touchy-feely inclusiveness stuff. This hit its zenith when Oprah scheduled a show in which Hurricane Katrina was to sit down and reconcile with her victims. The plan fell apart when Katrina realized she was already booked on "Leno," along with Al "I invented Merv Griffin" Gore.
Much of Oprah's appeal lies in the affectionate way that viewers think of her as their sister, their aunt or their Best Friend Forever. The downside, of course, is that you get those insufferable "Christmas letters" FIVE DAYS A WEEK. ("As I was telling Prime Minister Putin, I don't have any children, but if I did...Deion would have just launched a multinational 'green' company with money earned from his paper route, and Oprah Jr. would have donated the left hemisphere of her brain to feed starving lesbian toddlers in Sierra Leone...")
But, really, Oprah has great modesty. If anyone tries to dub her the most powerful woman in the world, she points out that she's still lacking a couple of things to accomplish that. (Although, I understand that her staff is scouring the world for a magic lasso and an invisible plane.)
Oprah's book club (launched in 1996) revolutionized the publishing industry. I'm especially impressed with the way she made a million seller out of "The 1954 United States Department of Agriculture Interim Report On Boll Weevils In Southeastern Counties of Alabama." ("The pathos! The complex intergenerational drama! The 10 pages that were just a repetition of Mary Had A Little Lamb, but nobody noticed for the first 50 years of the book's existence...")
As a "New York Times" writer noted, Oprah knows how to quit when she is ahead. If she had decided to keep the program running another 25 years, the annual "My Favorite Things" show would have degenerated into "If it doesn't massage my feet or keep the neighbor kids off the lawn, I say the &^%$#@ with it."
Now that my career path has taken a different turn, I don't begrudge Oprah her success in daytime talk; but some of her competitors have been less kind. When Oprah wheeled 67 pounds of fat onstage to illustrate her weight loss, Jerry Springer reportedly fumed, "The members of my studio audience have that much fat between their ears!"
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