Oprah Winfrey was born January 29, 1954. She is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
Dubbed the "Queen of All Media", she is the richest African-American and North America's first multi-billionaire black person and has been ranked the greatest black philanthropist in American history and is considered the most influential woman in the world.
Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. In 1977, she was removed as co-anchor and worked lower profile positions at the station. She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. She also hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars.
In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. The first episode aired on January 2, 1984. Within months after Winfrey took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest-rated talk show in Chicago. The movie critic Roger Ebert persuaded her to sign a syndication deal with King World.
Ebert predicted that she would generate 40 times as much revenue as his television show, At the Movies. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986. Winfrey's syndicated show brought in double Donahue's national audience, displacing Donahue as the number-one daytime talk show in America. Their much-publicised contest was the subject of enormous scrutiny. TIME magazine wrote:
“Few people would have bet on Oprah Winfrey's swift rise to host of the most popular talk show on TV. In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk. As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue ... What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humour and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah's eye ... They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session.”
TV columnist Howard Rosenberg said, "She's a roundhouse, a full course meal, big, brassy, loud, aggressive, hyper, laughable, lovable, soulful, tender, low-down, earthy, and hungry. And she may know the way to Phil Donahue's jugular." Newsday's Les Payne observed, "Oprah Winfrey is sharper than Donahue, wittier, more genuine, and far better attuned to her audience, if not the world" and Martha Bayles of The Wall Street Journal wrote, "It's a relief to see a gab-monger with a fond but realistic assessment of her own cultural and religious roots."
In the early years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the program was classified as a tabloid talk show. In the mid-1990s, Winfrey adopted a less tabloid-oriented format, hosting shows on broader topics such as heart disease, geopolitics, spirituality, and meditation, interviewing celebrities on social issues they were directly involved with, such as cancer, charity work, or substance abuse, and hosting televised giveaways including shows where every audience member received a new car (donated by General Motors) or a trip to Australia (donated by Australian tourism bodies).
In addition to her talk show, Winfrey also produced and co-starred in the 1989 drama miniseries The Women of Brewster Place, as well as a short-lived spin-off, Brewster Place. As well as hosting and appearing on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen. She is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards).
On January 15, 2008, Winfrey and Discovery Communications announced plans to change Discovery Health Channel into a new channel called OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. It was scheduled to launch in 2009 but was delayed, and actually launched on January 1, 2011. The series finale of The Oprah Winfrey Show aired on May 25, 2011.
Written by Robert Brus