Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey, Oprah, 1954-, African-American television host, actress, and media magnate, b. Kosciusko, Miss., as Orpah Gail Winfrey, grad. Tennessee State Univ. (1976). She began her career as a Nashville radio reporter at age 17, worked in television news at 19, and moved (1976) to Baltimore to coanchor a news show. In 1977 she became cohost of a Baltimore morning chat show and in 1984 settled in Chicago to host another talk show. Her charm, easy manner, warmth, gift of gab, and unpretentious style earned the program an enthusiastic audience and soaring ratings. Soon the most popular local talk show, it was syndicated nationally in 1986, becoming the highest-rated such program. Also a talented actress, Winfrey made her motion-picture debut Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985), and a variety of other movie and television roles followed.

Winfrey subsequently built a media empire. In 1988 she established Harpo Studio, a production company responsible for numerous telefilms and movies, e.g., Beloved (1998;, in which she starred). In an effort to promote reading, she founded (1996) Oprah's Book Club, which recommends books to her talk-show viewers and has produced spectacular bestsellers, making her a force in American publishing. In 1999 she established Oxygen Media, which produces women's programs on cable television and the Internet, and in 2000 she joined with the Hearst Corp. in creating O: The Oprah Magazine, a monthly women's lifestyle publication. One of the country's wealthiest women (her estimated worth in the early 2000s was well over $1 billion), Winfrey is also an active philanthropist with a particular interest in women's and children's issues and education.

See B. Adler, ed., The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey: A Portrait in Her Own Words (1997); biography by H. S. Garson (2004); study by E. Illouz (2003).

The Oprah Winfrey Show is a United States syndicated talk show, hosted and produced by its namesake Oprah Winfrey, and is the highest-rated talk show in American television history. It is currently the longest-running daytime television talk show in the United States, having run since September 8, 1986, for over 22 seasons and 3,000 episodes (as of September 10, 2007). The show is renewed through 2011 but in a 2007 interview with Larry King, Oprah said that in 2011 she will not renew her contract, thus ending the show.

Oprah has been included in Time magazine's shortlist of the best television series of the twentieth century in 1998, and it made the top 50 of TV Guide's countdown of the greatest American shows of all time in 2002.

The show is highly influential, especially with women, and many of its topics penetrate into American pop-cultural consciousness. While early episodes of the show followed a Phil Donahue-style exploration of sensationalistic social issues, Oprah eventually transformed her series into a more positive, spiritually uplifting experience marked by book clubs, celebrity interviews, self-improvement segments, and philanthropic forays into world events.

The show began broadcasting in High Definition beginning with its 2008-09 season premiere episode on September 8, 2008, becoming one of the first nationally-syndicated daytime talk shows to do so. That season premiere was broadcast from Chicago's Millennium Park and featured over 175 athletes from the U.S. Olympic Team including gold-medalists Michael Phelps, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh, and Kobe Bryant.

Wildest Dreams

One of the show's features in recent years has been the "Wildest Dreams" tour, which fulfills the dreams of people reported to her by producers, found mostly from viewers who write in to the show, be the dream a new house, an encounter with a favorite performer, or a guest role on a popular TV show.

During her nineteenth season premiere (fall 2004), Oprah surprised her entire audience by giving them each a Pontiac G6. It was named as one of the greatest television moments in history by TV Guide. Although Oprah may be given credit for giving the cars away, they were donated to her by General Motors as a publicity stunt. In 2005, Tina Turner guest starred, allowing Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman to fulfill her Wildest Dream of singing backup to Turner. Another included a man named David Caruso who lost 300 pounds after weighing 525 pounds. He came on the show in 2003 and told Oprah that one of his wishes was to sit in a Porsche. Minutes later, a white 2004 Porsche Boxster S (worth about $63,000) was given to him. Oprah named this one of her 20 favorite moments on a special DVD set.


Winfrey has interviewed a plethora of political and public figures during the past twenty years. In the earlier seasons of the show, rather than offering a simple publicity platform, a celebrity would often feature after a period of intense media scrutiny, such was the case when the model Naomi Campbell appeared after there were claims she had a substance abuse problem. She often interviews celebrities on issues that directly involve them in some way, such as cancer or charity work.

Winfrey claims her worst interviewing experience was with Elizabeth Taylor in the fourth season. The actress refused to talk about her marriages and current relationship, leading to a number of awkward silences. Taylor later apologized and returned in a better mood on Oprah's couch.

Oprah's interview with Tom Cruise, which was broadcast on May 23, 2005, has also gained notoriety. Cruise — according to the The New York Times — "jumped around the set, hopped onto a couch, fell rapturously to one knee and repeatedly professed his love for his new girlfriend, Katie Holmes." This scene quickly became part of American pop-cultural discourse and was heavily parodied in media as diverse as MADtv, Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, Hannah Montana and the film Scary Movie 4.

Non-celebrity guests are generally individuals who have been involved in an extraordinary situation. Examples of these include an episode in the fourth season which featured Truddi Chase, a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder who reported being violently and sexually abused beginning at the age of two. After introducing Chase, who was there to promote her book When Rabbit Howls, Oprah unexpectedly broke down in tears whilst reading the teleprompter, relating her own childhood molestation to that of the guest. Unable to control herself, Winfrey repeatedly asked producers to stop filming. Other non-celebrity appearances include guests who are chosen for being particularly un-fashionable and are given a fashion makeover by renowned style advisors Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine. Or such as Jacqueline Saburido a woman who suffered burns on her entire body after an car crash in 1999, Oprah later referred to her as one of her favourite all time guest because of her shining inner beauty.

Regular segments

Oprah's Book Club
Originally featured a monthly book highlight, including author interviews. Its popularity caused featured books to shoot to the top of bestseller lists, often increasing sales by as many as a million copies at its peak. It was suspended in 2002 and returned in 2003, now featuring more classic works of literature, with reduced selections per season. The old format was reintroduced in September 2005, but her selection of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces became controversial due to accusations of falsification. January 2006 saw Elie Wiesel's Night selected; Oprah even traveled to Auschwitz with Mr. Wiesel. The most recent selection is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.What's The Buzz
Oprah introduces up-and-coming public figures generating industry buzz but not otherwise widely known. In what several media commentators have labelled The Oprah Effect, people appearing on this segment such as Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx and singer James Blunt have benefited from the extra publicity the show brings. Blunt in particular saw album sales increase dramatically and a top two spot on the Billboard 200.Remember Your Spirit
Premiering and most popular during the mid-1990s, recurring guest and self described spiritualist Iyanla Vanzant emphasized the importance of self-affirmation and intrinsic worth.Oprah's Favorite Things
Usually airs during the holiday shopping season or at the beginning of spring. Items personally favored by Winfrey are given away to the audience. Certain episodes of this type feature select groups of people; in 2005's Christmas edition Hurricane Katrina volunteer workers appeared in the audience. In November 2006 she opted to hand out credit cards of one-thousand dollars and camcorders to members of her studio audience, who were then told to help others creatively using the money; Oprah has since called it favorite giveaway ever.Tuesdays With Dr. Oz
Mehmet C. Oz, MD, the Ivy-League educated head of cardiac surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in NYC and better known to millions of Oprah's viewers as "Dr. Oz", regularly appears on Tuesdays on the 2008-2009 season of The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2009, Dr. Oz will debut in first-run syndication with a series co-produced by Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures Television and distributed by Sony.

Other famous moments

  • On December 25, 1986, a frail Liberace made his final public appearance on Oprah, dying six weeks later from AIDS.
  • In 1987, Oprah traveled to all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, which had gained a reputation as being a hotbed for racism. It turned out that a majority of the county actually supported racial integration.
  • The surviving members of the Little Rock Nine confront some former classmates who heckled them on their first day of high school.
  • A. J. McLean of the Backstreet Boys appeared in 2003 with his mother to openly discuss his drug addiction and rehabilitation. Oprah surprised him with the rest of the band coming out to give him support, making this the first time they appeared together in two years.
  • "The Weight Wagon" episode airing on November 5, 1988, showed Oprah wheeling out a wagon containing fat, representing the weight she had lost.
  • Oprah was moved to tears by the sight of her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Duncan, in 1989. She appeared just when Oprah read her name on the teleprompter.
  • The highest-rated single episode ever was in 1993 when Michael Jackson made a rare appearance on the show, during which he attempted to dispel many of the rumors surrounding him and told Oprah he suffered from the skin-pigment disorder known as vitiligo.


The show averages about 8 million viewers per original airing and about 4.5 million for repeats.


Some of Oprah's detractors accuse her show of having a liberal slant; she has championed such liberal causes as the living wage, and featured filmmaker Michael Moore multiple times on the show. A controversial episode, which aired in 2005 (though originally aired to little apparent notice in October 2003), saw guests discussing the sexual act of "rimming," igniting criticism. The FCC received a proliferation of complaints from angry parents whose children watched the show in an early-evening slot in many television markets. However, most FCC correspondents were prodded to write by Howard Stern, a noteworthy target of the agency, as well as Jimmy Kimmel, in an attempt to expose an FCC double standard.

Another recent controversy is Winfrey apparently declining to invite Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on her show until the end of the 2008 presidential election cycle. . However, it is unlikely that Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, or the presidential candidates would also guest on the show within the last two months of the election, due to FCC requirements requiring equal time for all of the candidates (although Phil Donahue avoided that issue by getting his show labeled a bona fide news interview show, which provides an exception to Equal-time). Also, after endorsing Barack Obama for the 2008 presidential election, Winfrey declared that until the election was over she would not invite any of the presidential ticket candidates on her show. Winfrey, however, has featured Obama on the show twice, in 2005 and 2006, prior to his announcement that he was running for President.

In the late 1990s, on a discussion of mad cow disease, Winfrey stated that the disease fears had "stopped me cold from eating another burger!" Texas cattle ranchers considered that quote tantamount to libel, and promptly sued her. As a result of the legal proceedings, the show was forced to move to Amarillo, Texas for a period of approximately one month, and furthermore, because of a gag order, Winfrey was not allowed to even mention the trial on her show. Winfrey was acquitted of all charges.


Oprah Winfrey has recently created a YouTube channel, at youtube.com/oprah that showcases some clips of her show and other relevant video features that are pertinent to a show's subject when aired.

Cultural References

  • On the Nickelodeon show Drake and Josh Oprah is mentioned many times by Josh; he even has an autographed picture and a life-size cardboard cut out. In one episode, Josh accidentally hits Oprah with his car.
  • On the Nickelodeon show All That, Oprah and her talk show are lampooned on several occasions -- the program is known as Okrah! therein.
  • On The Simpsons, there is a talk show called Opal. However, the real Oprah once "interviewed" Marge Simpson in a specially animated segment.
  • On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith and his family attend a broadcasting on the show.
  • On Arthur, they have a spoof of The Oprah Winfrey Show that's called Hoping with Hoprah.
  • The Christian band Casting Crowns mentions Oprah in the song What if His people prayed.
  • In the beginning of the film Mrs. Doubtfire, when Robin Williams replaced the cartoon character's voice by saying smoking's a real killer, his boss Louie said that it's a cartoon, not the Oprah Winfrey special.
  • On the Disney show The Proud Family, Sugar Mama appears on Oprah because of her lemon bars.
  • In the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, Tibby was watching Oprah, and said, "She's very sympethic, you know."
  • In the now cancelled ABC sitcom Hot Properties,the focus is on four single women professionals, each with distinct personalities that contribute in their failure to secure dates and above all, their shared passion for Oprah. One episode focuses entirely on the cast's quest to attend the The Oprah Winfrey Show being frustrated when one of the tickets gets lost. The episode ends with the cast meeting Gayle King in an elevator.Gayle King appears on the show as herself.

See also


External links

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