October 22, 2020

Talk Show Ends, and Oprah Moves On

She may be the only one.

Television stations are bracing for an afternoon ratings slump without her. Publishers and publicists are contemplating what the next best show for promoting their products will be. And Ms. Winfrey’s viewers are looking for something else to watch — and many of them are still wondering where on their cable systems to find OWN, her five-month-old cable channel, where she will host a new show on a less demanding schedule next year.

“I literally curb my enthusiasm for the end, because I realize that for the other people that are part of this experience” — like the 464 people who produce her show — “the end is a different experience than it is for me,” she said in an interview last week.

The last episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which will be televised on Wednesday, is the biggest such moment in television since Johnny Carson walked away from “The Tonight Show” two decades ago.

Mr. Carson walked away and did not look back; what Ms. Winfrey is doing may be much more risky. She is moving to cable, to OWN, where she wants to build an ultimately bigger business, though the early ratings have been disappointing.

“I’m not going away, I’m just changing,” she said. “I’m just creating another platform for myself, which eventually will be wider and broader than what I have now.”

Skeptics about the OWN venture abound, but Ms. Winfrey has proved skeptics wrong in the past, most notably in the mid-1990s when she turned away from tabloid fare about cheating spouses and scandalous paternity test results and talked, instead, about “living your best life” spiritually and emotionally. Surprising the television business, she held onto her viewers, and she remains the country’s most popular talk show host by far.

People around Ms. Winfrey say they sense that she is nervous about OWN. “I wish more people were watching,” she said, when asked about OWN’s weekly show-about-her-talk-show. But she seems at peace with her decision, made 18 months ago, to quit her syndicated program and the incredibly demanding schedule that goes with it.

With just a handful of shows remaining, Ms. Winfrey said she was still pondering what to say on her last episode. .

For Ms. Winfrey, leaving is turning into yet another teachable moment. Her farewell tour this season has been fantastical to her fans and egomaniacal to others. All manner of anchors, actors, and authors have kissed her ring. President Obama, whom she helped to elect, dropped by last month.

Along the way she has revisited her struggles with weight and her town hall meetings on race relations, apologized to the disgraced author James Frey for not showing sufficient compassion in an interview five years ago and taken her studio audience sightseeing in Australia.

The tour culminates on Monday and Tuesday with “Surprise, Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular,” an arena show with an audience of 13,000 that was taped earlier this week, and a more intimate finale on Wednesday at her famous studio in Chicago. Commercials for the finale ask, “Where will you be?”

Ms Winfrey has economic motives for the pomp and circumstance, of course. Expecting a big audience for the finale, advertisers have paid $1 million apiece for 30 seconds of commercial time on the last hour of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Ms. Winfrey is likely to use at least a little bit of that time to promote OWN, which is available in about 80 million homes.

But no one disputes that she deserves something of a victory lap. Ms. Winfrey etched herself into the culture by revolutionizing the television talk show format, making it a place where both celebrities and ordinary Americans could spill their hearts, holding her hand all the while.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9c4b7d881af58524830c2b18de613ebf

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