Oprah�s Orbit
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Oprah�s Orbit

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December 21, 2010, 2:56 pm
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By Keisha Allisse

As the queen of daytime talk prepares to descend her throne after 25 years, the question on everyone’s lips is, ‘who’s next?’ The most obvious choice would be Ellen DeGeneres whose Emmy award winning talk show, in its eighth season, features a mix of celebs and everyday folks getting couch time with the popular comedian. The show’s feel, however, is more a mix of chat fest, game show and Soul Train, a far cry from Oprah’s platform of self improvement. Another contender is long time fave, Live! With Regis and Kelly, but the key to the show’s success is the dynamic interplay between the co-hosts rather than life affirming ideologies. And finally, there’s The View, the Barbara Walters coffee klatch featuring women of different backgrounds and ages, but once again, what makes the show tick is the energy between the five women rather than the energy and thought they inspire in their audiences.

What makes Oprah so singular is the fact that she, like Phil Donahue before her, redefined the genre. When Oprah entered the daytime race in 1986, the traditional talk show subjects were polarizing (racism, politics) or seedy (gold digging women and the seniors who love them!); hosts would float through the audience to catch ‘everyman’ commentary. Now, post-Oprah, everyone pretty much remains seated (except for when they get A BRAND NEW CAR!) Winfrey shifted the format from everyone has a voice to everyone has a story. The show evolved from ratings bait stories to one on one conversations with everyday people, celebrities revealing their innermost thoughts and a rotating cast of Oprah-approved experts.

Of all the most influential aspects of the show, it is her endorsement that is the most powerful (and likely to be the most missed); like a fairy godmother with a magic wand, Oprah’s seal on everything from books to house wares to people have turned little know critical faves into New York Times bestsellers and local professionals into household names. Recurring appearances on Oprah’s couch have led to spinoffs for Nate Berkus, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray (whose show is produced by Oprah’s company). It’s interesting to note not one black woman has spun off successfully from her show (Iyanla Vanzant and Gayle King’s shows didn’t last).

Considering Oprah’s goliath reach, she could have easily handpicked a successor to continue the show’s format, but considering that Rosie O’ Donnell attempted a handoff to Caroline Rhea to abysmal results, it makes sense to avoid a similar fate and announce the replacement to be…you. Oprah launches her own network, OWN, January 2011. And when the first signal goes out, her millions of viewers will be sure to follow, but what will free TV do to fill the gaping hole left in her absence?

Court shows and game shows are taking up more morning slots as soap operas begin to die slow and painful deaths. Tyra’s no longer on the air (whew!) and Wendy Williams is fun, but not for mass consumption. I guess if the mantle needs to be handed down it would have to go to…Anderson Cooper. You read right! The CNN host will be on double duty when he launches his own talk show next fall.

Cooper has subbed in for Regis Philbin on Live! a couple of times and showed good humor and a biting wit. It will be interesting to see him transition from ‘serious journalism’ to the lighter fare of daytime, but it shouldn’t be too hard (he hosted ‘The Mole’ after all). As it stands now, he is likely the best hope to evolve a format pioneered by Donahue, popularized by Oprah and in desperate need for a game changer to keep it relevant.

Author: Keisha Allisse
Keisha is a freelance writer currently living in New York City. She formerly worked in the nonprofit sector for a walking/biking advocacy group and then later for a small theater company. She worked in the finance department of a NYC-midtown based theater organization before leaving to pursue writing full-time.
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