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.
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.
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.