The Oprah Effect: What comes next?

As the countdown to the last Oprah show continues, with her very last original show airing tomorrow, many are asking "What next?"  I'm not sure that anyone thought that she would simply hang up her microphone and sail off in the sunset, although if that's what she decided to do, she would have earned the down time. Where does one go after paving the road for African-Americans, being a leader among woman, launching and sustaining an award-winning show, initiating a bill which also bares your name (the "Oprah Bill" was signed into law, launching a database for registered child abusers), starting a production company, radio station channel and magazine; winning multiple achievement awards, lifetime awards, more than 45 Emmy's (before removing the show from the running in 2000) and literally changing the lives of hundreds upon thousands of people?

If you're Oprah Winfrey, you keep on going...

The last show is a complete surprise to the viewers.  Everyone on the Harpo staff has been tight-lipped, down to the question of whether the show will be taped or air live.  A 30-second commercial spot will cost advertisers $1 million.

The Certainties, the projects which will continue: 

OWN: In 2008, Harpo and Discovery Network announced plans to create OWN, which stands for the Oprah Winfrey Network. January 1, 2011, the network was launched and brought into the homes to 80 million viewers. the network runs the last season of the Oprah show and select specials, including a Behind the Scenes look at the Oprah show.

O, the Oprah Magazine: Launched in 2000 with Hearst Magazines, O has been credited as the most successful magazine launch in history.

Oprah & Friends: A radio show on XM Satellite Oprah & Friends, first aired in 2006 and three years later, an Oprah channel was launched, bringing episodes to listeners around the clock.

The Uncertainties, the answers which will come in time:

Will Oprah:

  1. Run for office or enter the presidential race?
  2. Spend more time working with charitable endeavors?
  3. Write her own book?
For these answers, we will have to wait and see what comes next, by way of new projects, for the Queen of Daytime TV.

For Now:

While I admire all that Oprah has achieved in her lifetime, what I most connect with is her ability and desire to always stay the course, staying true to herself and to her mission of timely, touching and truthful topics.  In the 90's the Oprah Show saw a decline in their ratings in the shadow of Ricky Lake and Jerry Springer, two shows that had rising ratings as they brought in risqué guests and showcased tabloid topics.  But Oprah stayed true to her mission, reporting on "clean-cut" topics and maintaining dignity.  And it paid off as the ratings once again climbed and eventually surpassed every show on daytime TV.

The lesson? Stay YOUR course.

On yesterday's show, Dakota Fanning called Oprah's voice "the soundtrack of our lives" as she paraded out onto the stage with other girls her age, all of whom Oprah had touched in one way or another, in effect changing their lives. Tom Hanks said at the beginning of the show, “Twenty-five years have come and gone so fast.”  Twenty-five years the likes of which will never come again, at least in my lifetime.

The Oprah Effect: Looking back

I'm assuming that everyone reading this knows who Oprah Winfrey is, correct? If not, you've been living under a rock for the last 25 years, while this dynamic woman became the first black, non-athlete power broker in history.  I met Oprah in 2008 and I have to say that she is as incredible a person in person as she is on TV.  She walks the walk, but truly has a presence unlike anyone I've ever met.  I mean, she sends her staff on a paid vacation every year, where they can take their spouse and children... great boss, right?

As her award-winning show comes to an end, I want to take a look at some of the ways she has influenced our lives, including consumer spending (dubbed the Oprah Effect), and where the media megastar will go from here...

Oprah was born in Mississippi in 1954, the same year Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decisions ended racial segregation in schools.  After years of sexual abuse at the hands of her male relatives, she moved to Tennessee to live with her father and attend college where things started to happen.  She was named Miss Black Tennessee, hired by a radio station and became Nashville's first African-American TV correspondent before heading off to Baltimore in 1976 to co-anchor the 6pm news.  Two short years later, Oprah became the host for the local Baltimore talk show, called People are Talking, where she spent six years, before relocating to Chicago, where we all know,  The Oprah Winfrey Show got its start!

Whether you watch her religiously, like her for all that she's accomplished or feel the need to roll your eyes when you hear her name, I think we call all agree that this woman has truly left a mark on our hearts and in our society.

A Look Back on 25 Years... 

1) Weight struggles and diet suggestions: From fasting to fad diets and marathon running to veganism, the woman has covered all dietary programs on her show and in her life.  Viewers saw Oprah go through periods of being thin, to gaining weight, to losing weight and then settling somewhere in the middle.  Remember when she wheeled the wagon of fat onto the stage? Or, most recently, asked her entire staff to go vegan for a month? On May 10, Oprah had her last weight related show, where she welcomed 100 viewers who had lost 100 pounds or more.  What an inspiring way to wrap that subject component of her show!

2) Philanthropy: In 1997, Oprah asked American's to donate their spare change to those less fortunate.  This simple gesture launched Oprah's Angel Network, which provided funds to hundreds of organizations each year that focus on education and basic human rights. Over the years, 55 schools were built in 12 countries, 1000 families were given a home after theirs had been destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and thousands of books were donated to students living in areas of poverty. The Network has since shut down, but Oprah encourages her audience and viewers to always give back.

3) Reading: It's Oprah's Book Club! Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE has read at least one book from Oprah's Book Club! In 1996, the book club launched when Oprah recommended a book to her readers.  And what happened from there is the Oprah Effect at it's best... When Oprah announced it, the author's book immediately became a best seller.  Overnight. What began as a once-monthly book selection found its groove at 3-4 novels per year, and over the course of 15 years, officially changed the lives of 65 different authors when she chose their book. (Full list of books)

4)  Taboo topics: From racial inequality to gay rights, Oprah never shied away from a taboo topic. She has invited white supremists, homosexual parents, victims of abuse and people struggling with addiction to share her stage to bring their stories to us. On the first season of her show, she visited Forsyth, Georgia where not one single black person had lived for 75 years.  Today, 25 years later, 7000 African American families call Forsyth home.  This woman can seriously change the world.  No, wait.  She already has...

5) Catapulted careers: With 44 millions viewers per week, Oprah has to merely mention a product and sales will double practically overnight.  The products that she gives away on her Give Away show, are gone from the shelves within days.  If you're a small company, and Oprah is about to say your name on her show, be prepared! And that's with a product, what about the personalities. Dr. Phil McGraw, Nate Burkus,  Dr. Oz, and Dr. Bob Green all got their start with Oprah. From making an appearance on her show, to eventually having a show of their own (under the Harpo Production Company, one of Oprah's endeavors) these personalities have the big O to thank for catapulting their career.

When asked to reflect on her 25th and final season, Oprah said to Gayle King that the message of her program is: "You are not the product of your circumstances. You are a composite of all the things you believe, and all the places you believe you can go. Your past does not define you. You can step out of your history and create a new day for yourself. Even if the entire culture is saying, 'You can't.' Even if every single possible bad thing that can happen to you does, you can keep going forward."

Enough said.