The Oprah Winfrey Show, often referred to simply as Oprah, is an American syndicated talk show that aired nationally for 25 seasons from 1986 to 2011. Produced and hosted by its namesake, Oprah Winfrey, it remains the highest-rated talk show in American television history.
The show was highly influential, and many of its topics penetrated into the American pop-cultural consciousness. Winfrey used the show as a platform to teach and inspire, providing viewers with a positive, spiritually uplifting experience by featuring book clubs, compelling interviews, self-improvement segments, and philanthropic forays into world events. The show gained credibility by not trying to profit off the products it endorsed; it had no licensing agreement with retailers when products were promoted, nor did the show make any money from endorsing books for its book club.
Oprah is one of the longest-running daytime television talk shows in history. The show received 47 Daytime Emmy Awards before Winfrey decided to stop submitting it for consideration in 2000.
The show has its roots in A.M. Chicago, a half-hour morning talk show airing on WLS-TV in Chicago, Illinois. Winfrey took over as host on January 2, 1984 and, within a month, took it from last place to first place in the ratings. On September 8, 1986, it was relaunched under its current title and picked up nationally. For the premiere, the show’s producers tried rigorously to book Miami Vice’s Don Johnson as the first guest, even trying to bribe him with Dom Pérignon and a pair of rhinestone sunglasses. All attempts to book Johnson failed and Winfrey decided to “do what we do best, and that is a show about and with everyday people.” The topic for the premiere show was “How to Marry the Man or Woman of Your Choice.”
Early in the 12th season of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey confessed she was “exhausted” and considered quitting. While making the movie Beloved, Winfrey then admitted that it brought her back to her responsibility as an admired black woman with a great deal of power and influence. She realized that being in such a position within the media industry, she could make a positive difference in people’s lives. Winfrey was once again inspired to continue to help people take better control of their destinies, hence her slogan, “Live Your Best Life”.
I made the decision…in the midst of doing Beloved. I was doing some scenes—Beloved is about an ex-slave, and during that process of doing that I connected to really what slavery had meant, and my own personal ancestry and history connected it to a way I have never before from reading all about Black history and, you know, talking to relatives. And I realized that I had no right to quit coming from a history of people who had no voice, who had no power, and that I have been given this—this blessed opportunity to speak to people, to influence them in ways that can make a difference in their lives, and to just use that.
The show was renewed through 2011, but in a 2008 interview with Larry King, Winfrey announced that in 2011, she would not renew her contract, thus ending the show.