For someone who professes to hate goodbyes, Oprah Winfrey sure is hosting quite a long one.
Oprah's TV show will vanish sometime in 2011, she says. I only wish we had this kind of warning BEFORE she arrived on the scene.
Oh, stop frowning and looking at me sideways. Oprah's OK. She annoys me a little bit but she's probably done more good than bad for folks in this cartoon of a country that we inhabit. I'm sure she's a very nice woman, truth be told.
Time for a quick check of the iconic TV people over the years.
Johnny Carson: none of us did what Johnny told us to do, because that wasn't his gig. He didn't pontificate, he entertained. He mugged. He could crack us up with an arched eyebrow and a crooked mouth. But Carson was a ghost outside of his TV show. He was almost Howard Hughes-like in guarding his privacy. He championed no causes, endorsed no products, imparted no life lessons. No way of knowing if he was a Republican, a Democrat, or a Marxist. Johnny was just there to make us laugh every night at 11:30. That was it.
David Letterman: Letterman is perhaps the closest thing to Carson as there ever was, or ever will be: private, close to the vest, apolitical. No endorsements, no causes, either. Just glad to be a sounding board and a straight man to whoever happens to be sitting to his right every night.
Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and the rest: Men we would trust with our liquor cabinet while on vacation. Personalities ranging from uncle-like (Cronkite) to wooden (Jennings) but in all instances, guys that were OK in our book---as long as they stuck to reading the news and giving us election results. Outside of that it could get clunky and awkward---and did on occasion.
Jay Leno: More of a person than Letterman and Carson. Jay let us know that he's into cars, for one. He put on some free shows for the unemployed in Michigan, as a way to show support for the car industry. Even appeared in a movie, although in the worst way. Funny in a Bob Hope kind of way; you wonder if he'd be a cut up sans cue cards and pre-written material.
Oprah---she's one of those who ascended to the one-word name, like Madonna or Johnny or Magic---changed the way TV personalities interacted with their public; I must grant her that. She doesn't have fans, she has cultists. Oprah won't just have someone on to promote a book---she'll practically insist that her viewers read it. Like, right now. Immediately.
And she did all this without the benefit of prime time or late night. She's one of the few TV personalities who carved out her niche while the sun was still out---soap opera stars notwithstanding.
But I still don't like that she feels compelled to put herself on the cover of every issue of a magazine that bears her name.
Oprah helped to build a school in Africa for girls, though that wasn't without some controversy, when it came to how those students were being treated by the faculty when no one was looking. But at least she didn't take her sweet time responding to the reports of maltreatment.
Oprah's OK. I'm a little put off by the way her fans follow her like wide-eyed puppy dogs but if that's the worst thing, then maybe it's not so bad after all.
And, she's giving them plenty of time to say goodbye to her TV show.
Or is it vice-versa?
Reminds me of the last line of pitcher Jim Bouton's famous tell-all book about baseball, "Ball Four."
"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball," Bouton wrote, "and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
You see, Oprah Winfrey had her faithful in the palms of her hands for over two decades, but maybe it was the other way around all the time.