April 20, 2024

The TV Watch: Television Diva Gives Thanks and Signs Off

And Ms. Winfrey did exactly that in a valedictory monologue that was something between a graduation address and a Sunday homily, praising God and her fans for her success and exhorting viewers to “connect, embrace, liberate, love somebody, just one person and then spread that to two and as many as you can.”

And the lack of ceremony, the absence of celebrities, goody bags or confetti, was less a letdown than a relief after the star-studded, two-part Oprah-fest on Monday and Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago, a Pharaonic tribute that capped what was already a season-long elegy to the star of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Ms. Winfrey called the tribute a “love intervention on steroids.” And come to think of it, there hadn’t been such an over-the-top display of self-celebration since 2005, when Ms. Winfrey released a six-disc DVD collection of her greatest moments, timed to the 20th anniversary of her syndicated show — unless it was her 50th birthday celebration in 2004, which featured 2,000 roses, a 400-pound cake and testimonials from the likes of John Travolta and Nelson Mandela.

Ms. Winfrey’s last show was a lot more like the first nationally syndicated episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1986, when the young woman who overcame an abusive, deprived childhood was only beginning to be known but had already developed a messianic streak. Ms. Winfrey showed a clip of that maiden appearance, in which she explained, “This show always allows people, hopefully, to understand the power they have to change their own lives.”

For her final farewell Ms. Winfrey chose to separate the two contradictory strands — spiritual guide and show-business diva — that are the alchemy of her success. Inconsistencies are the core of her improbable, inimitable career. There is no one like her partly because she is never less than two opposite things at once, Hollywood royalty and star-struck commoner, entertainer and confessor, profit seeker and prophet. Ms. Winfrey was a tycoon and also a tastemaker whose endorsement made the fortunes of housewives, authors, singers and even presidential candidates. She built schools, rescued abused children and hawked beauty treatments, sometimes all in the same show. Ms. Winfrey could move from high literature to lowly undergarments in a heartbeat; she is the woman who introduced “Anna Karenina” and Spanx to the masses.

The best way to measure her stature in the world isn’t by her rank on the Fortune 500 list or the number of accolades from celebrities like Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Maria Shriver. (Ms. Shriver gave audiences an extra frisson by seeming to allude to the deceptions of her estranged husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, while praising Ms. Winfrey. “You have shown love, support, wisdom and most of all,” Ms. Shriver told her, pausing to add, “the truth.”)

Ms. Winfrey’s role isn’t calculable even through the obeisance paid by world leaders or the heartfelt tributes from the ordinary people whom she has inspired over the past 25 years.

It’s easier to look around and try to determine who in popular culture is poised to take her place, and the answer is no one. Her most popular protégés, like Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, may take over some of her share-and-heal duties. Competitors like Ellen DeGeneres and perhaps newcomers like Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric could inherit some of her celebrity interviews. But nobody can copy her unique gift for mixing philanthropy and self-interest. Whether giving a car to each member of a studio audiences or sending scores of needy students to college, Ms. Winfrey made doing good seem like fun; carrying out good deeds didn’t preclude living the good life.

That could be because Ms. Winfrey blends the mystical and the practical better than anyone else in show business. Last week, in an episode devoted to her three most memorable guests, she said that one of them, Mattie J. T. Stepanek, a child poet with muscular dystrophy who later died, persuaded her to continue until 2011 instead of ending after the 20th anniversary. Ms. Winfrey said she considered Mattie a prophet, so that when he told her he had a feeling she should continue her show until the 25th season, she instantly complied. She did not add that it was also the moment her contract with CBS, which owns the syndication rights to her show, expires.

Ms. Winfrey closed with these words: “I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say ‘until we meet again.’ To God be the glory.”

And she has spent her last days — and her entire 25th season — not so much bidding farewell as coaxing viewers to follow her to her next project, the cable network she created in her own image, OWN.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6859b760464267311ab43307ec004e34

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