CNN and other outlets are reporting today that “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will be ending after 25 seasons.
The last show will be coming up soon: on September 9, 2011.
Okay, so it’s not so soon! Mrs. Winfrey has followed the path of evening talk show host Jay Leno, the host of “The Tonight Show” from 1992-2009. To remove speculation about the potential of him moving to another network, or about what would happen with Conan O’Brien, the succession plan was announced well in advance of his May, 2009 departure from the show. Mrs. Winfrey’s announcement comes almost two years before her show will actually end.
I have several questions and reactions to the news:
Wow! Sometimes it takes the end of something to appreciate how amazing it’s been. According to the Oprah.com website, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has been the highest-rated talk show for 23 consecutive seasons, being seen by 42 million viewers a week in the United States and 145 other countries. It has spun off “Oprah’s Book Club,” “O” Magazine, Oprah.com, “Oprah’s Angel Network,” Harpo Films and a host of other associations.
More Than a Show. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is more than a show. It’s an institution. It’s a movement. It’s a congregation. It’s a marketing animal. It’s the home base of a much larger media empire. While most talk shows (“Larry King Live,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Late Night With David Letterman, etc.) attract media leaders who are releasing a book, movie, campaign or public relations message, Oprah’s endorsement has turned unknown people into household names, including Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson. She has helped turn unknown gadgets into everyday must-haves . She once urged her audience to read Leo Tolstoy’s”Anna Karenina,” and the ancient Russian classic shot to the top of the Best-Seller list.
What’s Next? What does someone with Oprah’s influence do next? She’s been on more “Most Powerful Women” or “Most Influential Women” or “Most Popular” lists than I even knew existed. Her reach is national and international, non-sectarian and transdenominational, inspirational and political. Will she run for office? Will she focus on charity? Will she be a Kingmaker and Queenmaker? Her world is among the biggest oysters of our lifetime.
Why Leave? Ms. Winfrey’s show launched her to a place not only of celebrity and stardom but of influence and wealth. Now that she’s got both, I believe that the primary reason for her leaving is to have the freedom to be a leader in causes that matter most to her, unbound by the cumbersomeness and boundaries of the show. Her viewership took a slight hit when she endorsed Barack Obama for President, and when she became closely associated with New Age teachings.
Where’s Her Successor? One of the enduring strengths of “The Tonight Show” has been its ability to create succession plans and successors. It would have been an outstanding exclamation point to her 25 years of the show’s success to be able to hand the baton to someone else. Some will call it impossible due to her unbelievable popularity. Others will say that great leaders raise up great followers.
But Ms. Winfrey’s announcement is different. There will be no successor, because there can’t be. She’s been on every “O” magazine cover ever. Her personal brand is stronger than that of the show. And there hasn’t been a “#2” in the wings. The enduring question will be whether or not Oprah wants to sustain “The Oprah Effect,” in terms of her influence, and whether or not her audience will remain faithful without the opportunity for daily contact through the show.