Winfrey’s extraordinary 25-year run has made her a multibillionaire. She also leaves a mostly knockout legacy for supporting and promoting the right causes. She’s also become one of the world’s biggest and influential philanthropists.
But all things must come to an end. And with Winfrey, it just means a beginning. She will move her show and her power to her own cable channel — called OWN — jointly owned with the Discovery Channel. The word “own” is the most important one here. No one will ever own Oprah but Oprah.
Not everything Oprah’s done has been perfect. As I reported last year, Winfrey’s Achilles Heel is her interest in power. When the paperwork was filed for her Leadership Academy in South Africa, it turned out she’d accepted $5 million from the same Republican who’d sponsored anti-Obama commericals in 2008 and anti-John Kerry commercials in 2004. She’s even good friends with the guy — even though it was Oprah who launched Obama on her show.
Still unresolved from Oprah’s run is her autobiography. She almost published the book several years ago with Knopf, then called it back at the last minute. Winfrey believes in a shallow transparency: She wants her audience to know which throw pillows she likes bes, but as little about her personal life as possible. It’s quite a change from the original Oprah, who talked about being raped and molested and used to do interviews from the audience. She built her show’s success by identifying with the audience. Eventually, she dropped that stance, and the populist program.
Last year, Oprah may have jumped the shark when she went a little too crazy for gobbledygook New Age guru Eckhart Tolle. She promoted his books and conducted online seminars about his flaky philosophies. It seemed like she was starting a cult.
But the real cult is of Oprah. And on OWN or wherever she goes next, her audience will follow her. And with a few missteps here or there, she will lead them someplace worthwhile.