May 24, 2011

USA: Every day is Oprah's day

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WASHINGTON DC / USA Today / Life / People / Opinion / May 24, 2011

Though it might be true that Barack Obama's story could happen only in America, the more improbable tale of success against the odds could belong to another African American from Chicago: Oprah Winfrey, the doyenne of daytime television who today hosts her 4,561st, and final, show.

Obama at least had access to an elite high school and Ivy League colleges. With the assistance of his grandparents, he enjoyed a stable and supportive home life. Winfrey's childhood, in contrast, was one of abject poverty, and abuse.
Photo courtesy: thfire.com

That she overcame these obstacles to become the world's most influential pop culture mogul is truly astounding. That she did so from a perch built largely on daytime talk television — a genre of vapid celebrity chat, dubious self-help and, on occasion, trashy people hurling chairs at one another — only adds to her achievement.

Video: Fans were treated to a star studded recording of Oprah Winfrey's final shows in Chicago, the talk show host was joined on stage by celebrities including Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise.

For a quarter-century, Oprah has crashed through barriers. Not just those that hold people back because of race, gender and class, but the ones that frame peoples' preconceptions. She reinvented the daytime talk show, turning hers into a force for good and, improbably, a vehicle for publicizing great literature. Her book club could make any author, from Toni Morrison to Leo Tolstoy, an instant best-seller while promoting reading to an audience more accustomed to watching.

Nor was it thought likely that, in a multichannel world of entertainment and polarized world of politics, she could appeal to so many types of people. What sets her apart is her ability to convey genuineness, her comfort with who she is, and her commitment to promoting education opportunities for the disadvantaged.

Oprah doesn't really need her show anymore. She has her own cable channel, magazine and educational causes. She can bestow her blessing on anyone she wants. She can sound off on any topic she wants.

After 25 years, this might well be the right move for her. But for her millions of fans, it's a tough one.

© 2011 USA TODAY