How did Oprah Winfrey revolutionize the media world?
Let's count the ways: first, by building a media empire on the twin pillars of audience empowerment and charity, attaining monumental status among those devoted to her appealing, affecting message.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than on her own program these past two days. Monday and Tuesday, a succession of the showbiz world's biggest stars were shown at Chicago's United Center — pulling Hollywood's nexus to the country's middle for two days — with Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Stevie Wonder and Jerry Seinfeld among the flood of boldfaced names in the house.
"I know you don't have children of your own, but you have mothered millions," said Jada Pinkett Smith, just before bringing on Jamie Foxx and Wonder to sing a custom-made version of Isn't She Lovely?
Winfrey's final syndicated broadcast show airs at 4 p.m. today on WFLA-Ch. 8, reportedly taped Tuesday afternoon before a hand-picked audience of fans. In the episode, the host takes the stage alone to spend an hour telling fans what they've meant to her over 25 years on broadcast TV; now, she'll focus on her cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
To get you in the mood, here's one last, irreverent list: my, um, unique roster of Oprah's best moments:
m Best boon to literature: Not the Oprah Book Club, which did move 30 million books, but her takedown of memoir fabulist James Frey and his pastiche of fake anecdotes, A Million Little Pieces. That's because she also put Frey's publisher on the hot spot, exposing how little modern publishers actually vet their nonfiction books, beyond avoiding lawsuits.
Best surrogate family member: Renowned poet and author Maya Angelou, as Winfrey's surrogate mom, followed closely by Sidney Poitier as her surrogate dad, Gayle King as her surrogate sister and Toni Morrison as her cool, surrogate aunt. Best perk of celebrity status: reinventing your family with cooler people.
n Best successor: She might have brought us everyone from Dr. Phil McGraw to Dr. Mehmet Oz (anybody else note former protege Rachael Ray's conspicuous absence from the Oprah lovefest?), but her real successor in daytime talk will likely be Ellen DeGeneres, one of only two women to appear with her on a cover of her O magazine. Both started as outsiders who learned how to speak to their mostly female, mostly middle-class audience in ways others could only dream.
n Best trend: Yes, she championed everything from The Secret and Spanx to Louboutins and Jimmy Choos. But her best trend was likely taking ownership of her show, assuming all the profits and charting her direction herself. Runnerup: rejecting tabloid talk show topics to craft the Live Your Best Life empowerment attitude in 1998. If only Maury would take the hint.
Best friend: The female viewer. By displacing Phil Donahue as top TV talker, she became a voice to women crafted by a woman. And though many of her fans say they don't see her color, Winfrey's status as a straight-talking black woman fit the same space filled by mainstream icons such as Bill Cosby — authentically black, yet nonthreatening enough to educate and intrigue white viewers.