Oprah Winfrey has reigned over daytime talk television since her show became nationally syndicated in 1986. Long before becoming a global one-woman hit, Winfrey was a star in Chicago, where The Oprah Winfrey Show continues to be based. In 1985, a role in the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Color Purple marked the beginning of her national prominence.
Winfrey’s talk-show formula for success is simple: folksy, homespun humor, wisdom and warmth. Added to the mix are celebrities and compelling guests, many of whom share narratives similar to Winfrey’s that chronicle weight issues, abuse and the search for acceptance in a hostile world.
Yet, it has been Winfrey’s sharp business acumen and full understanding of her industry that led to her billionaire status and fame known by so few people, and certainly no other black woman.
Aside from her standing as number 6 on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women, and in Forbes’ top 250 world billionaires, Winfrey, more than anything, is her own brand.
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A thriving magazine, a production company, book club, network specials, and a school in South Africa number among her many endeavors. On top of all that, in 2008, Winfrey helped elect America’s first black president.
So, when the queen of daytime talk announced in November that she’ll quit her show in 2011 to focus on her new cable network, OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network – it became obvious that Winfrey simply was doing what she’s long advocated for others: Reinventing herself.
“The last time she came up with the ‘Live Your Best Life,’ tag, she reinvented herself, freshened it up to take it in a new direction,” says Eric Deggans, a media and television critic for the St. Petersburg Times.
In Winfrey’s new venture, she will partner with Discovery Communications to create OWN: a multiplatform media venture that expects to reach more than 70 million homes after its launch. The platform will be featured on what is currently the Discovery Health Channel, and it will include Oprah.com. Although Winfrey’s Harpo company will own a 50 percent stake in the venture, viewers will look for Winfrey to deliver content that is 100-percent Oprah.
OWN’s programming must achieve a certain “freshness” if it is to become the sort of destination to which her fans are accustomed, Deggans says, while noting the unlikelihood that she will transfer her current show format, mainly because syndicated talk shows are dying. Yet, Deggans and other media observers have no doubt that whatever Winfrey does, it will spell success.
“There’s a sense that OWN will benefit her full potential,” Deggans says. “You don’t get to be the most successful black broadcaster by not being ambitious. I’m sure she feels like she’s at the top of her game.”