Sunday, May 29, 2011

Oprah's Era Ends

It's the end of an era for Chicago and for television.

After 25 years, Oprah Winfrey broadcast the final installment of her hugely popular daytime talk show.

It was an intimate episode---just Oprah addressing her audience, no surprise guests, no huge give-aways.  I missed the earlier "farewell" programs that had been broadcast from the United Center, the house that former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan built.  He appeared, along with an armload of other friends and celebrities.

But the final show was simply Oprah on stage, reminiscing about her guests and lessons learned, thanking her audience, providing her statement of meaning, and giving one last bit of encouragement to her loyal followers.  It was certainly sincere, if a bit preachy, especially in the final 20 minutes.

Considering how rarely I was able to see the "Oprah"  show during its impressive run, it's amazing how much I knew of her.  She seemed to be everywhere.  More than just a chat show, her program seemed to provide an active form of therapy to her viewers, mostly women (if her studio audiences were any indication).  In spite of her enormous wealth and influence, she had a way of connecting with "everymen" and "everywomen", and exuded an empathy and openness of emotion that made people feel welcome with her.

I didn't always agree with her.  I hated her habit of slipping into "ghetto-speak" when making a comic or unpopular statement.  When Heath Ledger and the cast of "Brokeback Mountain" visited her set, she showed a surprising lack of understanding of the film's central relationship, considering that she had long become a fierce advocate for LGBT issues. And the Jonathan Franzen/Oprah's Book Club debacle uncovered an unseemly unpleasantness in the world of popular publishing.

And I sometimes felt that her taking the mantle of spiritual advisor was a bit sticky.

On the other hand, Oprah was well-loved by many, from her millions of fans to a diverse selection of celebrities. She was also generous. Not only did her audience giveaways become legendary, but she did much to promote educational opportunities to the disadvantaged, the empowerment of women, and assistance to many of the abused and troubled guests who appeared on her stage.  

She was an animal-rights advocate.  And she devoted many episodes to LGBT issues.

Oprah's Angel Network and her leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa are among her better-known charitable projects.

And, as evidenced by the final shot of her last show, Oprah loved her dogs, even devoting an earlier show to a pet that had passed away.

Oprah is not going away.  She will keep her hand in show business, and will likely produce television and theater, and continue her giving and humanitarian efforts.

After her final show, I watched "The Color Purple" again.  It was a film I had not revisited in many years, a film that I disliked when I first saw it in 1985. 

In my next post I will re-consider Spielberg's film, which gave Oprah her first major film role and her one Oscar nomination. 

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