Breaking into tears Friday on air, talk TV queen and self-made billionaire Oprah Winfrey emphasized that the decision to leave her blockbuster program after 25 years — closing down one of the most successful talk shows in history on Sept. 9, 2011 — was hers alone.
"I love this show. … And I love it enough to know when it's time to say goodbye," said Winfrey, who didn't tell her audience she likely would be focused on turning the Discovery Health Network into her own Oprah-focused cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network. "Twenty-five years feels right in my bones and it feels right in my spirit."
Which leads to a natural question: Who wins and who loses now?
There won't be another Oprah; no one can channel the voice of a generation of women the way Winfrey managed in a quarter-century of celebrity interviews and personal enlightenment sessions.
But that won't stop the industry from trying, furiously shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic that is the broadcast television industry. Here's a quick look at who lands in a lifeboat once the waves settle down.
WINNER: Ellen DeGeneres — She's the next most popular female host in daytime television, competing against Winfrey in several markets, including Tampa. And the media queen basically passed the torch when the two posed together for the cover of Winfrey's O magazine. In 18 months, guess who is best poised to scoop up viewers who won't watch Judge Judy?
LOSER: News broadcasts, including Tampa's WFLA-Ch. 8 — Winfrey's talk show has been a successful lead-in for local news broadcasts — including WFLA's 5 p.m. program — for years. She also appears on lots of ABC affiliates, affecting the network's flagship evening newscast, World News Tonight.
WINNER: Winfrey's TV kids — Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, Dr. Phil — Who better to plug the huge programming hole Winfrey leaves than talents the Queen of All Media developed (and barred from competing against her directly), bearing her seal of approval?
LOSER: The syndicated TV industry — Already on life support, this industry — where TV shows are sold individually to each market instead of aired at once on a network — has just seen its biggest star split for another playground. I bet executives at CBS Television Distribution, which handles Oprah (along with Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, among others), won't see any bonuses next year.
WINNER: The Oprah Winfrey Network — This floundering partnership with Discovery Communications once seemed a gigantic afterthought. But now it has a drop dead debut date — January 2011 — and status as the only TV home for Winfrey's superstar brand after September 2011.
LOSER: Oprah Winfrey? — Never bet against someone as wealthy, savvy and talented as Winfrey. Still, cable TV is a niche medium with a smaller audience; can she make or break authors, kick off buying trends and rule the celebrity universe in a place where football and pro wrestling still draw the biggest crowds?