Is Oprah The Queen Of All Media?

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The queen of all media is walking away from her biggest media platform. Wednesday, Oprah Winfrey ends her syndicated daytime talk show after 25 years. On the eve of Oprah's exit, Michele Norris talks with Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.


The queen of all media is walking away from her biggest media platform. On Wednesday, Oprah Winfrey is ending her syndicated daytime talk show after 25 years.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): Oprah Winfrey, today, you are surrounded by nothing but love.

NORRIS: That was Tom Hanks there, and she had Tom Hanks as emcee for a couple of her farewell shows. Those shows became a parade of stars, from Beyonce to Diane Sawyer to Madonna, all in front of a stadium full of thousands of loyal Oprah viewers.

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY: You have made it possible for us to stand for 25 years. Your presence in front of your television sets and your presence here tonight honors me in the deepest way possible. And I feel the love. Thank you.

NORRIS: Joining us now to figure out what this means for Oprah and for television and for Oprah fans is Eric Deggans. He's the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Eric, welcome back to the program.

Ms. ERIC DEGGANS (TV and Media Critic, St. Petersburg Times): Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: You know, we all remember some of her big pop culture moments - Tom cruise jumping up and down on the stage, for instance. But there were other things that she did that really set the show apart, things like taking the show to Forsyth County, Georgia, to have a conversation about race or taking the show on the road to highlight things that she thought America needed to talk about.

Mr. DEGGANS: What I think was singular about what she did was, before Oprah, the voice for women in daytime television was often controlled by men. The highest rated daytime talk host of the time was Phil Donahue. And I loved his show, and I love what he did, but he was a guy speaking to women.

And Oprah came along and was a woman articulating all those same issues and more from a woman's point of view. So she was able to talk about fashion and sexism and AIDS and the gay community and prejudice in a way that Phil Donahue, frankly, could not do.

NORRIS: She also fussed at people. She brought Toni Braxton on the show and said: How dare you burn through all that money that fast?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, you know, like a good girlfriend, she's going to make you come correct.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEGGANS: You know, James Frey I think was sort of the most notable example of that. You know, like any friend - Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, you talked about some of them - James Frey started out as a friend of the show. His book, "A Million Little Pieces," got great exposure on Oprah's show.

But when she realized that book was based on lies and she couldn't really defend it anymore, she brought him on to have an accounting before her audience and not only articulated, you know, how betrayed she felt by him personally but also got us all talking about how much can we believe memoirs.

NORRIS: America has become much more multicultural, but it's also racially fragmented in many ways still, even in 2011. And for many women, many white women in particular, Oprah was like their one black friend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEGGANS: Right. You know, I hate the way this term sounds, but there's a term in film criticism and media criticism called the magic Negro, where you have that black character who shows the white protagonist how to better live their life.

And as strange as that sounds, you know, Oprah fulfilled that function for a lot of people. She was that perfect black friend who could get you to see yourself in a different way.

NORRIS: And not just to white audiences, to black audiences, too, to really audiences of all colors, although I don't know that she would warm up to the magic Negro term.

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, I think for black folks, Oprah was a little different. I mean, number one, I think - and I'm African-American myself, obviously.

NORRIS: As am I.

Mr. DEGGANS: You know, a lot of pride in seeing a black person get to the point where they could be accepted universally. That is the dream of a lot of people who may feel on the outside of society.

So, seeing somebody start from poverty, being a black person in an industry dominated by white voices and come along and be accepted so universally and be so successful, I think there's a lot of pride in that. And seeing that play out is our story, too.

NORRIS: Eric, always good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Mr. DEGGANS: Thank you.

NORRIS: That's Eric Deggans, he's the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

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