Goodbye, Oprah

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

This time next week, the woman who brought us Favorite Things, the Book Club and Tom Cruise jumping on a couch will have officially closed the curtain on the most iconic daytime talk show of the last 25 years.

You must know whom I’m talking about. After 25 years, this Wednesday is the last time you will ever be able to plop down on the couch at 4 p.m. and settle in to an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Sure, there’s Oprah’s new network, OWN, with hours of new shows about inspirational people, celebrities, lifestyles, travel and more – technically, everything Oprah’s show gave us – but two things will be missing, and that’s the live studio audience and Oprah herself.

No pre-taped show can capture the excitement of watching Oprah interview guests in front of a studio audience. With her congenial, quirky personality, she could ask the questions we were all dying to know the answers to in a supportive and non-threatening atmosphere. The studio was America’s living room, and Oprah was the fabulous hostess of a dinner party with the most fascinating guests.

Two and a half decades is beyond ancient in television years, but Oprah never felt stale or out of touch. No other show on TV would feature interviews with celebrities from Michael Jackson to Barack Obama in the same week as practical financial advice from Suze Orman or harrowing tales of survival from ordinary Americans.

Everyone had a platform to speak about his or her life with Oprah. In one episode in 1987, the show relocated to Williamson, W. Va., where the town’s only openly gay man, who happened to have AIDS, addressed his homophobic neighbors in a nail-biting town hall-style meeting. In another episode just this past November, the studio audience was made up entirely of men who had been sexually molested as children. Oprah spoke with relatives of convicted murderers, politicians and philanthropists equally, allowing viewers to truly walk a mile (or an hour) in another person’s shoes.

Then there were the giveaways. No holiday season was complete without watching an unsuspecting studio audience get showered with thousands of dollars’ worth of Oprah’s Favorite Things. Oprah kicked off the 25th season by flying an entire audience to Australia (in John Travolta’s plane, natch) where they frolicked in the Outback and watched as Hugh Jackman nearly took his eye out zip lining onto the Australian stage.

The mother of all giveaways also gave us one of TV’s most classic lines: “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! EVERYBODY GETS A CAAAAAAR!”

Seriously, did daytime TV ever get any better?

Without Oprah, there will be a void in American pop culture. There are other programs that cover a wide range of topics, like “60 Minutes,” “Piers Morgan Tonight” or even “The View,” but none with Oprah’s signature knack for getting everyone – studio and home audiences alike – engaged and even mobilized behind every episode.

Oprah’s not called the “Queen of Daytime Television” for nothing. As long as she’s living, her presence will be known, and the legacy of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will live on for decades to come.

But for now, let’s all take a minute and have an ugly cry in her honor.

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