Good Day Oprah

Oprah Winfrey’s 25-year run as the queen of daytime talk has been more than just amazing. Her “only in America” story has endeared her to fans and made her a force in an international cultural arena, not to mention making her a power broker, a media mogul and a billionaire. She wraps up her highly rated show this week (reruns will extend into September), and the time is clearly right. It’s been a great run, and the waves have been kind… but the Oprah touch is not as magical as it once was, with ratings wobbling and PR potholes becoming more and more frequent. We couldn’t begin to imagine the spotlights shining so brightly into every single aspect of our lives. No one could hold up forever under the constant marketing storms.

Several PR hits have hurt the Oprah image of infallibility. There has been an abuse scandal at the girls’ school she founded in South Africa. Oprah helped promote books by James Frey and Herman Rosenblatt, both of which later turned out to have serious credibility problems. Occasional Oprah guest, pediatrician Mel Levine, became the subject of abuse charges and recently committed suicide. Oprah’s cable network, OWN, premiered earlier this year, more than a year behind the target launch date. It has sputtered with disappointing ratings and un-Oprah-like programming. In a recent published interview, Oprah admitted the channel struggles. “It’s not where I want it to be,” she said.

So what have we learned from Oprah? That being a charismatic talk show host is not all it’s cracked up to be? That you will eventually [in spite of all of your efforts] turn into a “brand” that can either be marketed or treated much like a cult, both of which occurred rather congruently in spite of the efforts to be as humble as humanly possible?

Yes.

There. I’ve said it. Oprah has become the cult brand of pop culture and all that it holds sacred. We tend to adorn celebrities with more accolades and God-like-ness than we should. We begin to believe that our lives WILL change drastically and magically because Oprah said they would. But you see, the one thing that we SHOULD have learned from Oprah… the “positive” lesson in all of the fan fare and confetti and waves of people looking as though The Beatles have just arrived in the US back in February of 1964… We should have learned that fame doesn’t matter, in fact, it rarely factors into the blueprint of life. It doesn’t buy you a ticket to immortality, it cannot save you from yourself and the choices you make along the way and it doesn’t remove your ego from the equation.

Comedian Kathleen Madigan summed it up best in one of her Showtime appearances, Gone Madigan. She said that she couldn’t fathom how ANYONE could sit in a room filled with writers and editors for a brand new publication [that being “O”] and deciding that YOU would be on EVERY single cover of the publication without sounding like a narcissistic dictator. Oprah adorned the cover of her magazine with pride. But it wasn’t REALLY Oprah on those covers when you think about it… it was a brand that she created who just happened to look exactly like her.

Oprah entered the daytime television world at an opportune time, when the lineup included whimsically romantic soaps and tepid discussion shows such as “Donahue.” Oprah grew up in the South and broadcast from the Midwest, which surely helped her to truly understand a wide range of viewers. She was, at one time, a “real” person [not a brand] who understood the ups and downs of real life, having battled her way out of poverty with an industrious, can-do approach. Oprah was sociable, empathetic, and just as important, NOT perfect. These traits helped her reach viewers across all demographic and socioeconomic boundaries. Viewers liked Oprah because they knew her emotions were real. They knew that she lived where they lived… that her problems were their problems revisited.

Oprah’s program had a solid balance of serious and fun topics. She took on challenging social issues with a level of sophistication. Local television affiliates often used the Oprah show as a lead-in to late afternoon newscasts, so it was in their interest to promote Oprah heavily to provide a ratings boost for local news. Oprah’s ratings power made her show the place to be for authors, new products, public affairs leaders and flawed celebrities. The Oprah “brand” was marketed beyond television into magazines, satellite radio, motion pictures and the philanthropic world. She spun off talkers, including Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Nate Berkus. But even the most popular television shows and personalities eventually rust, and Oprah is/was no exception to that rule. Her ratings have slipped by about a third in the past five years, with even “Judge Judy” providing competition. You see, Oprah, like any other “celebrity” IS human. I can assure you that she sweats, she breathes, she even goes to the bathroom… number one… and number two. The problem arrives when we [much like the sitcoms of the 60s and 70s], remove the bathroom and assume that said celebrity has no bodily functions.

Oprah herself has said, “Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for the moment that is to come.” So… to each and every one of you out there I pose this question, “What does that moment mean to you?” For Oprah, I would have to assume it means, “Going home. Watching television in her sweats, without make-up, without spotlights or cameras or an entire production crew… just Oprah, her dog, some munchies, a few trips to the bathroom… as well as the peaceful solitude that arrives when you haven’t been expecting it.” For some, that means removing the lofty wishes, the Machiavellian manipulations, the wacky schemes and just allowing the silence to wash over them. What can I say? That’s life. Good day Oprah, we’ll miss your enthusiasm, your optimism… and most of all, your smile.

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~ by upbeatmag on May 24, 2011.

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