Tune in to CHCH Wednesday at 5:30 ET as TV Feeds My Family drops in on my old pals Mark Hebscher and Lawrence Diskin for another Square Off. Today’s TV talk is about Oprah Winfrey. Apparently she’s leaving her show. She could have given us some heads up.
Winfrey’s last episode of her syndicated daytime talk show airs Wednesday, May 25. Plan your couch jumping party accordingly.
I share the soapbox today with Hamilton radio personality Sunni Genesco (from Sunni & Hayes in the morning) as well as Prof. Robert Thompson from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Thompson says Winfrey has had a huge impact on popular culture over the past 25 years–everybody knows that–but he does not expect her fame to last. Winfrey’s media empire was built on this five-days-a-week phenomenon that is her daily talk show. Her impact was her relatability and her immediacy–the, “Did you see Oprah today?” factor. But once she walks away, Thompson figures her fame will walk too, much the way Johnny Carson’s did. Carson was on television almost every night for 30 years, yet most people under 30 today, if they know him at all, know him through some vague reference on The Simpsons.

Lucille Ball, suggests Thompson, was well known decades after I Love Lucy went off the air, thanks to the constant rerunning of her sitcoms. With Winfrey, you see it once and throw it away–there are no reruns. He points out the main reason most people know Jimmy Stewart today is thanks to the constant Christmas showings of It’s a Wonderful Life. The same could be said for Dick Van Dyke. Some of us still love every second of his ’60s sitcom, but the reason he is out there at 85 making the rounds to promote his new autobiography (My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business) is because every Boomer and their children and now grandchildren grew up seeing him as Bert the Chimney sweep in Mary Poppins.
Winfrey could sustain a level of fame once she returns to TV with her own show on her OWN network. That won’t be until 2012, and even then it will only air three times a week.
The other slide factor with Winfrey is with her demos. Her audience has aged along with the 57-year-old talk show host. She’s your mother’s girlfriend. Tellingly, the latest Forbes list of the rich and powerful was just released and Winfrey was replaced as the most powerful women in show business–by Lady Gaga.

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