Some Love for Lady OPosted: April 21, 2011
Last week Oprah began the countdown to her last show. It truly is the end of an era: The Oprah Winfrey show is ending after twenty-five years. That’s a long time to do anything; particularly one thing, especially now. I’ve worked that long; just not for one company, doing the same thing. While it’s different when you are the brand, I understand why she’s ready to say, “That’s a wrap!” I intellectually understand it, but I also know that I, and many people, will miss her.
Having worked my whole life, I didn’t watch daytime TV. But in 2002, after three years of ‘death & destruction’ (career loss, death of family members, divorce, moving), I started DVRing Oprah to watch at night. It didn’t take long to get hooked. Ironically, it was the same year that the show’s format changed to the “Life Your Best Life” theme. When Dr. Oz, cutie-pie Nate Berkus, Suze Orman, Dr. Laura Berman and others became frequent guests to encourage people to live better, happier and healthier lives. They say timing is everything, and it is, because this is the only type of Oprah show I would really like (never a Heraldo or Jerry Springer fan). I quickly dubbed Oprah’s show “free therapy” and often called my BFFs to discuss.
One of the things I loved about her show is that it kept me current. While I was on the “work, rinse & repeat” cycle, her show would cover the latest book, drink, event, fashion, medical research, show, singer, you name it. While the business world looks upon Oprah as a million dollar trend maker, I view her as an authentic communicator, information source, someone who has lived through pain and struggle and who has my best interests at heart. I look forward to her new book club releases, Favorite Things, Best Things for Summer, makeovers, etc. Her fun shows are just that; very fun and uplifting, with the goal of bringing the joy back to everyday living.
Oprah is no stranger to the difficult side of life. She isn’t afraid to do shows on molestation, domestic abuse, murder, people living double lives, racism, hurricanes, tsunamis, grief after the death of a loved one; basically stuff that makes you cry. When the economy collapsed at the end of 2008, Suze Orman was on the show a lot, Oprah toned down the extravagance, and there was a lot of advice on how to make it if you lose your job, etc. Her intention is to show how people cope, heal, forgive and move forward with their lives. She’s been very honest about her own molestation and has become the ‘Erin Brockovich’ for children. It may sound strange to call Oprah, who’s much more famous than Erin, that, but she has repeatedly done shows year after year on the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children, both here and around the world. She is the biggest champion of children this country has now. One year she had a bounty on the heads of the FBI’s top sexual predators and brought in six of them. (Amazing what happens when you offer a $100,000 reward!) Some shows were extremely difficult to watch. There were times I’d leave them on the DVR until I felt strong enough or was in the ‘right mood’ to watch them. One year I wanted to write in, “Enough! Waving the white flag! Please bring back the light; the happy topics.” But I learned something about humanity, the capacity to endure and to forgive from those shows. Right now there are three shows from this season waiting on DVR: two on molestation and one about a man brutally abused by his family as a child. One of my sisters has asked, “Why do you watch that? Why do you take in that negativity?” Because it exists in the world and I learn from it. Pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away.
So, Oprah Gail Winfrey, I’ve learned from you. Learning has always been very important to me and through your show I’ve learned much about many things. But most of all, I’ve learned what it means to be authentic, real, to live with intention, and to do good in the world. I’ve said, “I love you Oprah!” many times while watching a show: seeing you cry with someone when you tried not to; talking about looking like a “schlumpadinka;” the show where you showed yourself without hair & make-up to help women understand that no one really looks like a magazine cover; when you walked up to Sheldon, the park ranger, with Gayle and said, “Sheldon, here are two black people in the park! There are black people in Yosemite!!” When you’d have some expert on talking and it was clear you didn’t know about it, you never pretended you did. You just did you. You encouraged others to face their pain, their past, to do the battle with the weight or whatever other demons haunt, to move on and love and enjoy life.
One of my sisters called me up last year after your announcement to ask, “What are you going to do without Oprah?” I said, “For God’s sake, I’m not that dependent on the show!” This year has been a mix of retrospective and new; minus Dr. Oz and Nate, who both have their own shows now. Oprah, even though I love you, Dr. Oz and Nate, I don’t have time to watch three sixty minute shows a day. It’s still two hours with fast-forwarding through commercials on DVR. Oprah gets the daily slot until over; next year it may be Dr. Oz, Nate or another OWN show. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) You have to remember part of the reason people watched your show is because of YOU! They like, trust, relate to and enjoy seeing you: react, smile, laugh, cry, eat, call yourself a schlumpadinka, love on your dogs, defend children, hold someone’s hand who’s lost a loved one, do something nice for other people and tell people that they will be alright and to “dream a bigger dream for yourself!” 2) With the diversification of the Oprah LYBL brand; Nate with his own show, Dr. Oz with his, and now the myriad of shows starting on OWN, it’s going to take people time to switch from your show to whatever their new love will be. Your show was a “one stop shop;” OWN takes your brand and creates programming around each slice of the pie. Be patient, it’s going to take time. It was easier to make one show a blockbuster (I know, easy for me to say) than to do so for twenty different ones. But have no doubt OWN will be successful!
First, I really hope you take some time off. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chef Mario Batali were on the show a few years ago talking about a road trip they took through Spain before writing a cookbook together. You said, “I want to do that! I want to take a road trip through Spain!” You were almost whining and I thought, “Oprah, you’re a billionaire. You can do that if you want!” But it made me realize that you, too, were on the “work, rinse, repeat” cycle. That’s coming to an end soon. Before throwing yourself into making OWN as successful as The Oprah Winfrey show, please go to Spain. Please go to Egypt. Please rest. You completely deserve it. Go back to Australia and hang with the cool Aussie kids. We need you to “Live Your Best Life” too Lady O:) But know we’ll miss you. And thanks for the therapy; I really needed it. ❤