Oprah Winfrey signs off after 25 years as queen of daytime talk TV

May 25, 2011

“There are no words to match this moment,” Oprah said Wednesday as she brought down the curtain on her syndicated daytime talk show, while all around her, media reports rained down about The End of the Oprah Winfrey Era.

“Today, there will be no guest,” Oprah told Wednesday’s gaily dressed studio-audience members, who’d been instructed to wear bright colors, according to news reports.

“This last hour is about me saying thank you. It is my love letter to you. I want to leave you all with the lessons that have been the anchor for my life and the ones that I hold most precious,” she said in the finale of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” dressed in an elegant peach sheath, diamonds bobbing brilliantly off her wrist and ears.

That, in marked contrast to the excesses of her show’s Monday and Tuesday broadcasts, which, under the umbrella name “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular,” had featured wave after wave of celebrities making the pilgrimage to the United Center in Chicago to praise her. On Wednesday, she called the two-day walk-up to the finale a “love intervention on steroids for me.”

“You will not be getting a car or a treat,” she told her very last studio crowd pretty much right off the bat. That was smart, because there is an expectation on the part of “Oprah” audiences that they will receive new cars, or Vera Wang wedding gowns, or honeymoon packages if they’re lucky enough to be in the studio when Oprah is marking momentous occasions — such as the first episode of this last season, when she gave every audience member a trip to Australia.

Some in the audience for the finale had worked hard to get there, submitting essays on Oprah.com about why they should be among the lucky ones to snag tickets, according to news reports. The final episode was taped Tuesday.

On the other hand, they would get to tell their grandchildren that they were there the day the queen of daytime talk TV abdicated after 25 years to devote herself to her ratings-hungry Oprah Winfrey Network on cable. OWN, in fact, went dark at 4 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday; viewers instead saw a placeholder directing them to watch “The Oprah Winfrey Show” finale on their local broadcast station. (OWN is a venture with Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications.)

“Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is, and get about the job of doing it,” Oprah told viewers Wednesday.

“Don’t waste any more time,” she urged. “Start embracing the life that is calling you, and use your life to serve the world.”

During her hour-long master class on life, Oprah also addressed the culture of victimhood.

“Nobody but you is responsible for your life. It doesn’t matter what your mama did; it doesn’t matter what your daddy didn’t do. You are responsible for your life.  . . .

“ ‘Jerry Maguire’ was just a movie — no one completes you,” she told her studio audience, which listened somberly.

She has been able to do the show for 25 years without missing a workday, she said, because of “my team and Jesus. Because nothing but the hand of God has made this possible for me.”

Wednesday’s finale enjoyed a huge promotional push. Ads ran on the season finale of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and the season’s final performance episode of Fox’s “American Idol,” among other shows. The ads compared Oprah and her farewell to broadcast-news legend Walter Cronkite, late-night TV icon Johnny Carson and the series finale of “M*A*S*H,” which remains the most-watched TV broadcast in history in terms of percentage of the country’s population tuning in.

“I won’t say goodbye,” Oprah said Wednesday as the hour came to a close. “I’ll just say, ‘Until we meet again.’ To God be the glory.”

By “until we meet again,” she means January 2012, when OWN has said it will launch the prime-time show “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” on which Oprah is expected to be seen regularly, globe-trotting with celebrity pals — although OWN has been sketchy on the details.

But before that, in September, OWN is scheduled to start presenting reruns of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which will be selected by Oprah and some of her famous friends. Oprah will appear in introductions to those episodes.

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