Exclusive Q&A: Oprah Winfrey Celebrates 25 Years
As almost everyone on the planet knows, The Oprah Winfrey Show will come to an end this spring after 25 years of groundbreaking interviews, emotional reveals, multiple awards and the best giveaways ever. Arguably the most influential TV personality of all time, Oprah Winfrey has helped sell millions of books and launched a myriad of successful careers. Her next venture, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, kicks off January 1, but her talk show is still her No. 1 priority. "My intention is to be fully present this season," says Winfrey, 56. "To take in every experience and allow myself to feel it all."
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TV Guide Magazine: Why did you decide to end your show after this season?
Winfrey: It just feels like the right time. I always wanted to leave when I felt the platform was still vital and held some kind of meaning in the hearts and minds of the audience.
TV Guide Magazine: The Oprah Winfrey Show has been a major part of your life for 25 years. Will there be a lot of tears?
Winfrey: I don't intend to be crying the whole season. The only time I get really emotional and nostalgic about the show is when I think about the viewers. Hopefully some of them will follow me to OWN, but I know not everybody will. And it will be bittersweet because it's bringing this chapter to a close. The show hasn't been a big part of my life. It's been my life. I didn't have children. I had the show. And I have created a family of support from my staff and the audience that really has had a huge impact on my life.
TV Guide Magazine: How will you top last season's kick-off—the Black Eyed Peas concert with half of Chicago dancing in a choreographed number?
Winfrey: We're not closing down any streets and I don't know if there will be any dancing. But it will be meaningful in its own way. And I absolutely can't tell you what it will be.
TV Guide Magazine: Throughout the season, will you go back to your favorite moments on the show?
Winfrey: There will be some of that. We have nearly 5,000 hours [of footage], and we broke up into different teams of people who have over the past eight, nine months looked at every single show.
TV Guide Magazine: Wow. Impressive.
Winfrey: That's what I say, too. [Laughs] They have reviewed and documented every single show, so we know what to revisit. I plan on going back to Forsyth County [in Georgia]. That's the town where there were no black people allowed and a guy was using the N-word with me. I'm going to do a tour of the new Forsyth County with him. I'm also going to go back to Williamson, West Virginia, where the town wouldn't allow a young man who had AIDS in the grocery store. His name was Michael Sisco. He's since died.
TV Guide Magazine: What about celebrity guests?
Winfrey: This year is about creating moments. So I can assure you we're saying to all of our celebrity friends this is not the year you can come on and just promote your book or promote your song. You have to create moments. So the team is looking at ways of pairing different celebrities to create unexpected moments. They had asked me, because after Mary Tyler Moore's [surprise appearance] — when I went into the ugly cry on the air — I made a rule that I was never to be surprised again on air. I don't want to lose that kind of control. If you've ever looked at that tape, snot's running out of my nose and I had such a headache that I couldn't focus. I don't handle surprise very well.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you asked President Obama to make an appearance?
Winfrey: No, I did not ask him to come on this year. But I did say, "I'm sure you will hear from somebody on my team before this year is over." [Laughs] I'm sure that at some point I will see a taped message or something.
TV Guide Magazine: Is it true that you're trying to locate the people who were on your first show and in the audience for your first national show?
Winfrey: That is true. Our record-keeping wasn't as solid then as it is now. [Laughs] Those were the days when I would go out on the street and ask people to come in: "Come in! It's air-conditioned."
TV Guide Magazine: How did Oprah evolve into a show that is about inspiration and aspiration?
Winfrey: Yesterday I was looking at a skinhead show [we did in 1988], and I said to my staff, "That's the show that caused me to do television differently." What I learned from that is you cannot allow yourself to be a vehicle that promotes the energy of hatred in any form. That was life-changing for me.
TV Guide Magazine: You've helped launch the TV careers of Drs. Phil and Oz and now Nate Berkus. Do you feel like a proud mama?
Winfrey: It's more than being a mama. It's Mother Goose trying to lay an egg every day. Phil started when I said, "Gee, I like what you're telling me. Maybe somebody else will like what you're saying." But viewers didn't like him at first because they're not used to people being that straightforward and direct. And so I said, "I can course-correct this. I will go on the air and tell people this is who you are, that you tell it like it is." Once I did that, people started writing in saying, "I want Phil to tell me like it is!" It became apparent after a while that he could do this on his own. So that started very organically. And after Phil worked so well, we thought OK, let's see if Oz has the ability to do that. And so it is with Nate.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there a secret to creating a great talk show?
Winfrey: The secret is authenticity. The reason people fail is because they're pretending to be something they're not. And even those who are not in alignment with my value system, people like Jerry Springer, he works because he's real. If you can find what the passion is and figure out a way to express that in an authentic and entertaining way, you have a chance at success.
For more with Oprah, including details about OWN, working with Rosie O'Donnell and her greatest accomplishment, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine on newsstands Thursday, Aug. 26!
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