Life after Oprah -- Outlook

May 23, 2011

Join Robyn Okrant as she discusses her Outlook piece Our best lives, without Oprah.

Okrant writes, "Some loyal viewers are in a panic about the finale of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' on Wednesday and fret that their days will never be the same."

Are you panicking about life after Oprah? Okrant is here to tell you it will all be OK.

Looking forward to a lively chat about the end of Oprah's show. Why do you think Oprah became such a huge phenomenon?

I'd love to hear all sides -- I know Oprah can be polarizing -- some people love her and some don't understand what all the fuss is about. Regardless of personal opinions, there's no denying her show was unique and changed the landscape of TV. Will the end of her show impact you?

Who will be the grand adult educator? Who will engage our minds and hearts and our ethics? Who will make us think and step out?

My hope is that we can learn to be a self-directed culture of students. That we don't need a media personality to guide our hand when it comes to inspiration. I know, that might be an outlandish dream, but I wish we could be our own educators!

Although I am usually too busy at 4 to watch Oprah since I work at that time, it's been a mainstay to know that in my absence, "Oprah was good today and she talked about so-and-so" which I what I'd hear from my retiree mom or other friends. Then I could either watch it at 1am or record it for my spiritual food, words of wisdom, hope, uplift or general learning of something new or a-ha. Or if I didn't quite believe that she had given away $10K worth of items to each audience member (to include 3D HDTVs), I could see for myself the crazed excitement of the audience as they received many material items which have been blessed by Oprah. Now that's legendary, "Oprah's favorite things". This woman changed TV, marketing and many people's lives whom she will never even hear from. The 4:00pm hour will never be the same. I will miss her and I know there will not be another to come close to her for a long time. I hope OWN provides another platform for her light to continue to shine, but other than the Behind the Scenes show, I can't say that I'm drawn to any show in particular.

That's hilarious and a great point -- and the same things has happened with me -- even when I haven't been able to watch, I've still overheard people talk about her show, and I've ALWAYS been aware of it. I have to be honest though -- I haven't really watched any of OWN. I'm not even entirely certain what channel it's on!

From my 3 childen - I'm a stay-at-home mom and during nap time, I'd watch my DVR'd version of Oprah. What can I watch to replace Oprah?

Could question! I don't think anyone will replace Oprah. Have you ever tuned into her network? Maybe it's time to catch up on old bookclub reading :)

Is there anyone currently in public life that you think can fill Oprah's shoes? Anyone who can act as a pied-piper for women?

I don't think so -- and I can't imagine it happening anytime soon. Oprah took years to evolve into THE Oprah we know now. Frankly, I think it'd be for the best if women could live without another celeb icon for a while.

I, for one, never liked O. It's typical that her tributes from others such as Maria Shriver were scripted. How do I know? Gayle King said Maria strayed from her lines.

I haven't seen it yet! What did you think? Oprah always said she hated surprises, so I found it amusing that the "spectaular" is billed as a "surprise" show.

I understand they have recalcualated the end of the Earth. It is not the rapture but the end of the Oprah show that will cause all to end.

You and I must have been separated at birth -- I just made that joke to my husband. He looked at me totally blankly.

You know, at 4 pm, there are other shows on other stations, and I am sure the station you watch Oprah on will have something new on. I doubt they will leave the time slot totally blank.

Ha! You don't think there will be a placecard of Oprah's shining face for an hour each day? It might get better ratings than a new show.

What did you do before Oprah? Can you return to that life, or start from there? Seriously, certainly someone can remember a time before Oprah....

Actually, I was 13 when Oprah started, so I basically filled up my days with stuffing my bra and reading the Little House on the Prairie series. I don't think that will hold the same amount of satisfaction for me at the age of 38.

Robyn, Thanks for your thoughtful article. It's a good, short postscript to your book and for those of us who wondered how things changed for you after your project ended. I think that finding our voices is a wonderful way to look at the end of the show. I watched a couple of minutes of one of Oprah's post shows on OWN last night. She was discussing Natalie Portman's cancellation of the interview post Oscar. Oprah said (paraphrasing): "I am not upset at all the way that the producers are... There are so many times when I said yes and when it came down to the last hour, I wished I had said no. Good for her for knowing her limits and doing what was best for her." Oprah has shown us how crazy her schedule and life have been. Perhaps letting go of her show means she can take her own advice, put herself first, and live her own best life.

Hey Betsy -- it's such a double-edged sword, isn't it? In order to guide her audience toward a more balanced life, Oprah's had to be a bit do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do. Now Oprah can give herself the opportunity to live the lessons she's taught us...but she won't have the same platform from which to teach.

And, of course, everyone's 'best life' is in the eye of the beholder, right?

I feel very conflicted about Oprah. I think she raised many important issues and did some good in the world, but I wish women didn't seem to need someone like Oprah. Having said that, one of the things I regret not doing while I lived in Chicago was going to see one of her shows. She's like a natural phenomenon.

I'm in the same boat as you -- on one hand, she inspired so many people and encourage philanthropy and personal growth and shedding shame...on the other hand she set unreasonable expectations, she focused so much on our appearance, and she placed such an emphasis on having THINGS. Even though I did my yearlong project, I can't say my doubts have been erased entirely. And yet, my respect for her has grown. Isn't that odd?

Yeah, I'll admit -- I'm happy I was able to see some tapings of the show. You're right. She was a Chicago institution.

Really? You people actually watch that dreck? Silly me - I thought this was all gonna be a tongue-in-cheek poke session about how brazenly Oprah just worships at the altar of Oprah. I mean - she doesn't actually DO anything.

Wanna hear something that blew my mind? When I sat in the audience of her show a couple years, Oprah came onstage, and a woman next to me started screaming, "Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus!" It broke my heart. I don't think anyone -- celebrity, or non-celeb -- should be placed on a pedestal.

I feel I've been immune to Oprah's influence... but then I think of my kindle (which I really never heard of until the Oprah show), certain books I've read, best bras I've bought... and I realize that Oprah's likes and dislikes have literally crept into every fabric of my life. It's amazing that one individual could have so much power.

Before I did my yearlong experiment, I thought the exact same thing! She is absolutely woven into the fabric of daily life. Her name means something to just about everyone (of course, to some people, she's a religious icon...for others she's a source of aggravation).

I've watched Oprah since her debut in 1986, but wouldn't call myself a superfan. I've DVR'd (or taped back in the day) her show religiously while I attended school and later when I began working. It became a habit, but I'd watch those shows that were of interest and deleted those that weren't. One of the things I learned is to take many different pieces of information and use what is helpful to me in my life at the point that I needed the information. For example, in the interview with James Frey last week, I learned to recognize when I am speaking from Ego rather than honesty. So, I'll miss those little tid bits of insight. However, I'm glad she's leaving. She needs a rest personally. I'm certain that she has several personal goals she'd like to achieve and it's time to let go.

I hadn't seen the James Frey interview until it reaired last week. I thought it was really good. And it was one of those rare chances we had to see Oprah really humble herself and admit fault. I thought that was a terrific lesson. And had to be SO hard to do publicly. I definitely respected her for that.

It will be OK. Oprah will have a whole network. Oprah will still us what books to eat and to watch her network around the clock.Oprah is still here to run our lives,

Do you think people will be as loyal to her network as they will be to her show? Especially given that she won't have a daily show on OWN?

I think that reality TV has replaced Oprah: The Real Housewives, Intervention, Hoarders, etc... It is interesting that her OWN network hasn't really captured the entertaining voyeuristic drama of those sorts of shows. What were the OWN producers thinking with The Judds? Naomi Judd is incapable of showing any emotion at all on her completely frozen face!

Yup. Agreed 100%. Oprah definitely launched the Confession Culture, but it's become a monster now on all reality TV.

I haven't seen the Judds. I can't do it. And you've completely scared me off it forever.

What is it that makes a daytime host so lovable? I mean, look at Rosie O'Donnell, people LOVED her and her daytime show, but after that she really hasn't been able to do anything else. Do you think Oprah will run into similar issues? That her schtick and charisma only work for daytime television and not much else?

Did you watch the Big Give? It was Oprah's Primetime TV show in 2008. Total flop. I'm with you -- I think Oprah's milieu was daytime talk. Of course, now the world is her oyster -- she can do anything she pleases, but she won't have as concentrated or loyal of an audience as she did on her talk show.

Surely some one with an ego as gigantic as Oprah won't be able to stay out the spotlight for long. With her network garnering about 10 viewers she'll need to do something to prove she's still relevant, right? In a year or two (max) she'll be back on TV.

You're funny. That's what one of my best friends keeps telling me -- she's starting the countdown clock for Oprah's new-and-improved daily talk show. Honestly, I don't think she should come back.


Has anyone ever calculated the value of all the free stuff that was hidden under audience seats? That's a number I'd like to compare to the national debt.

GENIUS! You should suggest that to some MBA student looking for a thesis.

Original poster here, again. I think its important that she was based in Chicago--that all her philosophies, while still drawing inspiration from each coast, basically came from the heartland, from the geographic center (more or less) of the country. There's something too that, I think. Everyone I knew in Chicago had an Oprah story--seeing her at a restaurant, working out at the East Bank club, seeing her walking her dogs, sans makeup or fancy clothes.

Absolutely. There was something -- especially as Oprah was establishing herself -- that made her seem untainted by the glamor of the coasts.

I once saw her jogging on the lakefront -- she almost caused a 12 bike pile-up. People were SO excited. This was back when she was training for her marathon and had lost a ton of weight. She was with a few other women, but just out in the open. Nowadays, she's never seen on the streets.

Do you recognize the fact that a very great many of us could care less? Who is she? Why should we care? In my 76 years I have never seen so much ado about such a modestly talented person.

Why is it that you think she's garnered so much attention and loyalty? It's one of the reasons I did this project -- I didn't understand it either, to be honest. Before the project began, I had no idea what all the fuss was about. I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially given your low opnion of her talents! Thanks.

I don't think people will be loyal to OWN. It is too preachy and the productions are amateurish. All those shows are done better on other networks. She and Martha Stewart should have teamed up on their jump to the cable networks. They would have more original programming. I still have Judge Judy to occupy my television afternoons...

Judge Judy is beating Oprah in the ratings!

OWN isn't as fun as the Oprah Show. The talkshow had balance...but OWN feels like a big self-improvement class and I've hit my self-help saturation point.

I wonder if she'll be able to hone it to draw in a bigger audience. Otherwise, we'll all just be seeing infomercials for Pajama Jeans on OWN in late night.

Well I think she over all has done a good job of making people more aware of falicies, More educated, more informed and it's incredible the products she's been able to promote -lots of businesses- and the other point is how she keeped other talk show hosts, celebrities doing good .

Imagine where companies like Spanx would be without Oprah? She's launched the popularity of amazingly successful corps.

And I agree with you -- she made charity and philanthropy hip. And in that area, in my opinion, the ends justify the means.

There is a good show on OWN called Vanguard with journalists (one of whom is Lisa Ling) doing in-depth shows on controversial issues. The reporters embed themselves in the life of a drug addict, a coyote, a Narc, etc. Very good.

I do like LL. I've wondered if she would get a talkshow in Oprah's slot. Although, she's not as flashy and fun. But really smart and brave.

Thanks for the show reco!

Will you be watching OWN? it is be marketed now, probably not. It seems to be missing two huge components: FUN and HUMOR. Oprah's show was so varied during the week. And it was only an hour commitment. OWN is too big for me to dig through to find what I want to see.

How about you?

And you'd think with all that money they could afford better RED hair dye! Oh my lord she looks like Bozo the Clown!

Poor Naomi. Wait -- she's the mom, right?

Oprah LOVED the Judds. What was that about?

She still have the magazine too, not just the network.

And we'll see her picture on the cover every month.

Depends on how you define talent. Can she juggle while singing? Probably not. Did she change a lot of people's lives for the better? YES. More than any living person I'd wager. Did she take her gifts and parlay them into monetary wealth? YES! She is richer than god. Did she take her talents and parlay them into fame? YES! She is probably the best known woman on earth and the hardest working. You may not like her, but she IS highly talented.

That's what I think -- she is a really smart business person who built a bullet-proof brand. And I respect her for that. A lot of people vilify or judge her for this...and not to get up on my feminist soapbox over this topic...but I just don't think a man would be judged in this manner. Her detractors think she's conniving, but I think she's a savvy capitalist.

And we all know she can't sing.

Oprah really needs to focus on OWN--she needs to have better programming. Whenever I watch, it feels like a bunch of re-runs from other channels. I miss Discovery Health.

I miss it too. Where am I going to get to watch plastic surgeries now?!

The best Oprah period was when she did Tuesdays with Dr. Phil. I also thought the Remembering Your Spirit years were entertaining. The pieces were unintentionally hilarious as it seemed the only way to show the people were spiritual was to have a candle burning in the background or to have the subject look wistfully toward a beautiful tree or sunset...

Dr. Phil gave me seizures BUT you are so right about the unintentional humor. I'm laughing now remember...

Has any Network contracted to televise re-runs of the show? And if so, do you have a schedule! Thank you.

I don't know the schedule, but I do know my local ABC channel has reruns setup after the finale of her show. I think we'll all have plenty opportunities to watch Oprah reruns for many years to come.

She is sincere, concerned, engaging and charasmatic.

I know people would argue with you about her sincerity...but who could disagree about her charisma?!

Yep, it does seem like they started the network before they had enough original programming in place.

Hey -- wanna start a network with me? We can just figure out how to program it later when we're not as busy.

Thanks for putting yourself out there to comment. After reading the Kitty Kelley biography I realized a lot of people wouldn't be willing to do that. (And I can't sing either.)

Thanks. That's really nice to hear. (I sing like Ethel Merman)

I think that shows that success is based not only on one's ability, but on one's affability. That being said, I think she has a LOT of talent in her job: which is interviewing, making people feel comfortable to tell all, getting viewers invested in the story.

I think that's a pretty good lesson, too. Just persevere...hone what you're good at, capitalize on it.

Hey, people LOVED being interviewed by her. From every day folks to celebs. She made them feel HEARD.

Her show started out like all the others: teen age moms, scandals, yelling. But unlike all the others, Oprah evolved into a place to learn and improve, not just watch as voyeurs as family scandals expoded on TV.

Yes. She totally jumped into the Phil Donahue template and evolved it over the years.

Her show totally started with the Phil Donahue template...and evolved over the years...

Hey all -- thanks a ton for your great comments and questions. I have to run teach a yoga class now. I'll try to answer anything I didn't get to later. Have a fabulous day and enjoy the last couple Oprah shows! Best, Robyn

In This Chat
Robyn Okrant
Robyn Okrant , a writer and actress in Chicago, is the author of "Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk."
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