26 May 2011

Farewell: Oprah's Final Show

Unless you've been living under a rock-- or without TV and Internet and Radio and human interaction the last couple years-- you'd know the world watched Wednesday as the Big O ended the 25 year run of the phenomenon that was her daytime talk show.  And what... an ending.  My husband and I watched her last 3 shows back to back.  The two-part, A-list star-studded Farewell Surprise Extravaganza held all of the glamour, excitement, and emotion expected in a tribute to the "Queen of America." Her best pals Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and the Smiths (that's Will and Jada Pinkett) co-hosted a celebration that included Madonna, Dakota Fanning, Diane Sawyer, Michael Jordan, Halle Berrie, Katie Holmes, Queen Latifah, Rosie O' Donnel, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Nate Berkus, and performances by Rascal Flatts, Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban, Kristen Chenoweth, Usher, and Aretha Franklin.  Did I mention there was an original poem about the Guest of Honor written and read by Maya Angelou and accompanied by Alicia Keys?  This was a big deal.  Thinking about all the travel and security precautions for the array of celebrities and guests staying in the Chicago area is giving me a headache.

Although the tribute seemed a tad over-the-top, I can't deny the impact Oprah and her show have had on millions of people.  Not only has she personally helped millions with charitable contributions, scholarships, her "Favorite Things" show... she has also inspired numerous charities and good works to spring up from the hearts of loyal viewers around the world. Even the Haters (and there are many) have to make allowance for her positive influence on others. Anyway, final shows 2 and 3 were fun, heart-warming, and just what a send off should be for a billionaire celebrity with very important friends.

Then the dreaded day arrived: Wednesday, May 25, 2011.  The Final Show. The End of an Era. Oprah's Farewell to the World.  Unfortunately the episode, in my opinion, was an EPIC FAIL.

You see, the beautiful thing about Oprah is her affinity for "keepin' it real"-- classic reactions to conversations about sex or poop, moving from "Anchor Speak" to "Southern Speak" when topics get awkward, and wearing her heart on her sleeve. I love that she never watched clips or saw makeovers before taping because she wanted her reactions to be in sync with her audience. It definitely added to Oprah's charm and "real woman" appeal throughout the duration of her show. Furthermore, she was great at interviews: asking the hard questions, remaining as neutral as possible, and not fearing the tears in her eyes when the conversations became difficult. What can I say, Oprah is a people person (insert "face palm" here).

However, the final show moved away from these classic guidelines and instead to the "Lessons with Oprah" hour, which basically consisted of Oprah Winfrey-- "Silent Leader of the Free World"-- preaching to everyone on how to live.  Actually, if you go to her website currently you will find a link in the center called "What Oprah knows for sure" and it takes you to a video of the final episode.  Condescending, no?  I understand that Oprah couldn't choose between the thousands of guests over the last 25 years to have on her final show, nor could she pick a topic to discuss other than the show itself so it left her in a conundrum. Also, it seemed Oprah wanted to create an intimacy between her and viewers reminiscent of FDR's Fireside Chats. The concept was not lost on me, but the execution was less than successful.  Oprah spent the entire time walking around, standing on the metaphorical soapbox, telling her audience to live the life that makes you happy so you can impact people around you, bring positive energy into your space so you can impact people around you, and listen to God or that Voice inside your head so you can impact people around you.  

Rather than discuss what she's LEARNED over the years, Oprah ministered about what she thinks she KNOWS: like a college professor without a degree lecturing millions of students. Of course her life experience is expanisve (though somewhat different than the rest of us in her later years, wouldn't you agree?) but Oprah could have approached the topic with a semblance of humility.  And yes, I know her final words were "To God be the Glory" but it just felt a bit hypocritical considering almost the entire last season felt like a tribute to Oprah... not God's Glory.  Why not interview crew, document the last day, read more farewells from viewers, or take time to discuss the future of OWN?  How about discuss your feelings on the goodbyes or show a tribute montage over the years? Overall the last episode of Oprah's talk show left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I'm glad it's over; had it continued another few years I sincerely believe it would've become "Lessons With Oprah" and we would have seen one of America's historical icons descend into arrogance and self-proclamation (though some would argue she's already there).

Not to leave you disheartened, I want to say that I agree with a lot what Oprah said about energy and pursuing what ever makes us happy, and being a blessing to someone every day.  She has done many good works over the years, and I believe Oprah's love of people and her desire to help is completely genuine.  Yes she's created a billion dollar industry out of her namesake, but she's put millions of that to good use.  And so, I will miss learning, laughing, and crying with Oprah on a weekly basis and I say God bless her... but I'm ready to move forward.

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