On September 8, 1986, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was broadcast nationally for the first time. The show was an instant success, making Oprah one of the most influential people in the world as her show become the highest-rated talk show in TV history.
Born on January 24, 1954 to a poor and unwed mother in rural Mississippi, Winfrey never let her humble circumstances hold her back. She once shared in an interview, “I don’t think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who, from an early age, knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”
After working as a local TV news anchor, her big break came in 1984 when she took over a poorly rated local morning talk program, “A.M. Chicago.” She turned it into a ratings winner, even beating out the competition, “The Phil Donahue Show.” Chicago-based movie critic Roger Ebert urged Winfrey to sign a syndication deal that brought her show to television sets across the nation, and eventually the world. The first episode to air nationally, “How To Marry The Man/Woman of Your Choice,” ushered in a new voyeuristic form of popular entertainment. TV viewers watched ordinary people and celebrities, alongside the expert advice of therapists and doctors, share their personal stories and struggles. Winfrey modeled the show’s confessional tone by sharing her ongoing weight struggles and her experiences as a victim of child abuse.
By 2008, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” had an estimated weekly audience of 46 million in the United States alone and was broadcast to 134 countries across the globe. A recommendation on her show, dubbed as the “Oprah Effect,” could turn anything into a bestseller. The show ended in 2011 and Winfrey launched her TV network, OWN, a few months later. Many talk shows have successfully followed in Winfrey’s footsteps, but there will only be one Oprah.