Oprah Fans: Calm Down!
I am sorry that Oprah Winfrey’s last show is tomorrow. Unlike legions of others, however, I do not see it as the end of civilization as we know it.
Her last act may be a TV milestone, but certainly not in the same universe as the epic finales featured in her current promo—Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” (May 22, 1992), Walter Cronkite on “CBS Evening News” (March 6, 1981) and “M*A*S*H” (Feb. 28, 1983), among others.
Everything about the promo is self-serving and hyperbolic, from Josh Kelley’s ‘Beautiful Goodbye’ to the tagline: “Where were you?”
To me, “Where were you?” is reserved for potentially life-changing moments, like the murder of John Lennon, on Dec. 8, 1980 (in bed, not alone, over the radio) or Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate, on Feb. 1, 2004 (on the living-room couch, not chemically altered but assuming I was hallucinating.)
In my lifetime, the mother of all “Where were you?” memories was JFK’s assassination, on Nov. 22, 1963 (fifth grade, in the gym, our principal on the loudspeaker.) To even contemplate a TV swansong rising to the level of that label is a sacrilege.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire Oprah Winfrey, not just for her 25-year run in a cutthroat business, but for changing the way we think and read and feel. Most of all, I admire her for using the power of her celebrity to empower young women, here and around the world. She is a true icon.
But true icons don’t need to say, or be told, they are icons, even in promos for their last show. Their very existence says it all. Some over-eager marketing types probably thought they were connecting the dots for us, as if Oprah Winfrey needed connecting.
Really? This woman has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the WORLD by Time magazine a record nine times – three more than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with six each.
Unlike Carson and Cronkite and the cast of “The Cosby Show,” Winfrey is not headed for TV oblivion. She has her own network, remember? She won’t draw big crowds on OWN, but she won’t disappear, either. She is a force of nature, with a long half-life.
And that is why, heretical as it sounds, Winfrey’s goodbye show does not have me gasping for oxygen or updating my will. No matter where she goes, she will be the larger-than-life showmaster. The only thing changing is the size of the tent.