Thoughts on Oprah’s Leaving


While most people in the publishing industry are bemoaning Oprah’s recent announcement that she’s ending her long running talk show, most authors I know think it’s next to a non-event. Don’t get me wrong: they know the power Ms. Winfrey has to change their lives with just a nod of her stylishly coiffed head. But since she’s only selected the works of about 60 authors for her book club during its 13-year existence, you don’t need to be a genius to know that a lot of good books go unanointed.

True, she does also recommend books via her magazine but getting into the magazine doesn’t seem to have the same clout and cachet as being selected for the book club. Maybe one of her final acts could be to introduce some up and coming authors or some young adults who are writing – something different than what she’s done before?

As a book lover, I don’t need Oprah to tell me what to read. In fact, I’d already read several of the books she’d selected before she put the spotlight on them, like Edwidge Danticat’s, Breath, Eyes, Memory or Garcia Marquez’s, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I even attempted to read in the original Spanish!

As a book publicist, I’m always meeting authors who’d give their first born to get their books picked, which is what prompted me to write my last post, Managing Expectations, Part I: Getting on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

So while some industry people have described this as “a blow” to publishing, I’m betting that Ms. Winfrey isn’t done with publishing yet. As a self-professed book lover, whatever the format of the new show, on her OWN network, Ms. Winfrey will find a room for books.

Anyway, I wondered what the people closer to ‘home’ had to say about this news and was surprised at the number of them who admitted that they don’t watch the show. But maybe it’s the company I keep? I catch Oprah only a few times a year, I just don’t have the time for much television.

So, here’s a sample of some of the responses:

Carolyn Butts, publisher, African Voices

I think it will be devastating since Oprah has made it one of her missions to support literature and the Oprah Book List has helped create bestsellers. Her support of Push and producing the film “Precious” is a prime example. I hope she continues OBL in “O” magazine and her other broadcast enterprises. It is a huge loss for the African-American community to see Oprah, a media force, leave her post after 25 years. There is no other prominent and trusted household name in television right now that has a talk show and the versatility to provide a platform for politics, the arts and spirituality related topics. – Carolyn Butts, www.africanvoices.com

Nalo Hopkinson, author of several novels, including The New Moon’s Arms

I’m afraid I don’t have a clue. I haven’t had a television in decades and have never seen one of her shows in its entirety. Too, she’s never promoted science fiction, so she hasn’t been a big blip on my radar as far as being a novelist goes. Nalo Hopkinson, http://nalohopkinson.com/blogmain

Christopher J. Farley, author of several books, including Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley and editor at TheWall Street Journal

It’s not good for books. She was a friend and supporter of literature. Whether she picked your book or not, her public embrace of reading and authors sent a signal: books matter. One can only hope that she continues to support literature in her new venture, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. – Christopher J. Farley

Carol Taylor, author of the Brown Sugar books and the forthcoming novel, The Ex Chronicles

How like Oprah to give us two years to get ready for the end of her show and the beginning of her media empire… Part Deux? I love that woman. I mean what’s not to love? I certainly can’t imagine the last 25 years without her. Can you?

All the hits from Harpo, oh the brilliance of that one, my name spelled backwards is Lorac; oh wait, it’s taken. But I digress. Those bright shining moments in TV history with our self-help guru, motivational survivor, queen: The weight loss, the weight gain, Steadman and the never-ending engagement. Or the lesbian rumors, the road trips, the book club’s million little fictional memoirs, the couch jumping, the tear-jerking, the Girl’s School and the Girl’s School scandal, and the philanthropy. I can remember every cinched at the waist outfit (especially the leather one) and every hairdo, even the weaves, especially the weaves! And of course the show on weaves! And last but not least, her quest for world media domination. I most certainly don’t want to even consider the next 25 years without Oprah: The weight gain and the weight loss, (and of course the weight gain), the weaves, the tear-jerking, the philanthropy, the lesbian rumors, the road trips to LA, (and this is just in her private life) and the actualization of her own, literally, cable network called the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). God I love it!

But wait…

“In 1997, Oprah said she was planning to retire, but then renewed her contract through 2002. In 2002, she said she would depart in 2006 – the show’s 20th anniversary year – but in 2004 she ended up re-upping through 2011, after riding a wave of high ratings and a revamped program in 2003. If Winfrey does end up shutting down Oprah, it could be painful for TV stations – particularly ABC’s owned stations, which make up the show’s core station group – that use the show to lead in to local news programs. On the other hand, Oprah’s ratings have been declining – this year they are down 14% — while the show’s license fees remain high, an expensive combination for stations.

While Discovery Chief David Zaslav said Friday morning that CBS Television Distribution’s The Oprah Winfrey Show will depart broadcast syndication in fall 2011, Harpo isn’t so sure. Zaslav told analysts: ‘The current expectation is that after fall 2011 her show will go off of …  syndication, and she will come to OWN,’ the cable network that Winfrey’s production company, Harpo, is creating in conjunction with Discovery.

Viewers, on the other hand, might not notice Winfrey’s departure. Last January, Harpo and Discovery announced that OWN will take the place of Discovery Health on cable. That immediately wins it carriage on 70 million-plus homes. Exactly what Winfrey’s on-air presence will be on the network has not been clarified, but the talk-show queen and her strong eponymous brand are sure to be ever present. ‘In addition to providing her talent, and personal commitment, Winfrey will have full editorial control over the joint venture and will be responsible for OWN’s programming, branding and creative vision,’ Harpo and Discovery said in a press release at the time of OWN’s announcement. OWN launches next year. Winfrey also hosts a program on XM Satellite Radio called Oprah & Friends, and appears monthly on the cover of her popular magazine, O.” — By Paige Albiniak — Broadcasting & Cable, 11/7/2008

So maybe, Oprah’s not leaving… Oh, who cares? Because we’re all talking about Oprah; as if we ever stopped. What with the plays, movies, BFFs Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels, director of (Oscar-buzz worthy) Precious. We’ve got another 2 years to talk about it. Oprah too.  I mean, honestly, no matter if she stays or goes, you’d better get ready for the ascension of Oprah’s cultural idolization with the actualization of her media juggernaut… Part Trois? Whatever it is, I’m all in. Like I said, I love that woman, (and I don’t even watch her show) she’d better not be going anywhere. – Carol Taylor, http://www.brownsugarbooks.com/

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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