According to several reports, Oprah Winfrey will announce tomorrow that she is ending her talk show in 2011. The show, reportedly, will bow out Sept. 9, 2011, the last day of Oprah’s current contract. It bears mentioning that there have been announcements and reports that the Queen of Talk would hang it up in the past; in 2002, her plan was to end the show in 2006.
Word is, however, that Oprah will say tomorrow that she is ending her syndicated show in 2011 to focus on OWN, her cable network. Assuming she means it this time, what does this mean for talk TV?
As I say, I’ll believe the end of Oprah as a TV broadcaster when I see it. Oprah may be ending her syndication deal, which is rough for her syndicator, CBS TV Distribution. (The New York Times says she is not bringing her show to cable.) But if Oprah Winfrey decides at any time henceforth that she wants to have a TV show, are you going to refuse her one?
That said, it would make a certain sense for Oprah to hang it up while she’s still on top. Her ratings have been declining—with syndicated TV at large—in recent years. She has shown over and over again that she’s still relevant and can drive the national conversation, as when she hosted Sarah Palin this week and drew her biggest ratings in two years. But if she doesn’t want to ride the declining ratings of syndicated TV to the bottom, this would be a good time to make her cable move.
That would, of course, leave an Oprah-sized hole in the daytime firmament for someone to fill: Dr. Phil, Tyra Banks, a player to be named later, etc. Oprah has so dominated daytime for the last couple decades that the daytime audience could be ready for a new star to show up.
Or stars. I’d have to doubt whether any single person can have the wide impact in so many areas that Oprah did. For starters, forget TV: the end of her book club deprives publishers and authors of their biggest outlet, a forum that can break a book nationally in one shot. (She suspended her club for a while earlier this decade, giving publishers palpitations.) She’s had effects in pop culture, in spirituality, in product placement and arguably even in politics.
Oprah—if we are entering a post-Oprah era—could be another Johnny Carson or Ed Sullivan: one of the mass aggregators whose like we just won’t see again. It could be that the next Oprah will be several Oprahs, specializing, spread across several shows. In the meantime, we’ll have to see what she announces about her future plans: for all we know, some of those next Oprahs may just be working for her.