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The Queen is Dead? Long Live the Queen? Is Oprah’s Reign Coming to an End?

We don’t really do chat shows in this part of the world. Well, that’s a lie. We don’t do them well. And when we do do them, they are Prime Time shows like The Late, Late Show and are more often than not cheap imitations of chatshows from the States – we’re looking at you, Tubridy Tonight. In recent years we’ve tried the morning and afternoon chatshows and they haven’t really caught on – there’s a crisis at the RTE Afternoon Show even at the moment. In the States it’s different. Oprah Winfrey is the most powerful person on television. She saved Whitney Heuston. She makes or breaks best selling novels. Oprah is powerful. So the rumours that Oprah’s time as queen of the afternoon come as a bit of a surprise to me. As do many of the suggested reasons…

O, my god!

O, my god!

She has been doing the show for twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. That’s a long time and enough to put a lot of criticisms about the suggested reason for the current ratings slump in perspective. It is undeniably an odd time in the States at the moment, with a confused zeitgeist still floating on the waves of hope generated by Obama, but crashing against the rocky shores of the recession. But it is always a strange time in America – particularly the last decade. Who is to say that the recession is to have a much greater impact on the American psyche than similar downturns while the show was on the air? Or the feeling of loss and hopelessness that began with the 9/11 attacks and then simply grew in the midst of a strange new world that appeared in the wake of those atrocities? Still, it has been suggested that

Broadcasting experts also believe that the multi-millionaire Winfrey’s relentlessly upbeat, anything-is-possible philosophy may be jarring with viewers struggling to cope with a recession.

Oprah survived the harsh grey tones of the Reagan years, so I don’t believe that that the grimness of the recession is really a threat to her. I would argue that times of uncertainty heighten the desire by the show’s target audience to escape into cookery tips or book recommendations or celebrity interviews. Certainly the show received its highest rating is 2005, the year immediately following President Bush’s re-election and the height of the conflicts in the gulf. I don’t believe that Oprah is out of touch with her audience’s feelings and their lives – and I don’t believe that people turn away from lighter fare in darker hours.

What is harder to respond to is the accusation that Orpah herself is just plain out of touch. Pundits point to chatshows like Ellen reeling in younger audience members and suggest that Oprah is more than a little long in the tooth for younger audience members. Twenty five years is a long time. Her audience has grown up with her. They’re now all middle-aged housewives. Still, they should all be watching. It is a cause for alarm that Oprah can’t seem to reel in younger women to watch the show – what is the problem? Being honest it seems like drawing a younger audience can be lightening in a bottle, but it’s what advertisers look for in television shows. Still, it isn’t as though Oprah doesn’t try. Kids might not even know who Whitney Heuston is, but they do know the Black Eyed Peas – they’re popping along next week. Oprah (or her staff) keep active Twitter and Facebook accounts in an attempt to launch an assault on the youth market. It isn’t working.

There’s also the more interesting (to me) idea that Oprah has sped the decline of the show – which has been on the way down over the past four years, but that drop became more pronounced this year – by politically alienating her audience. Her support of Barrack Obama may have alienated her mostly white middle-class audience, who would have been staunch Hillary supporters. Or so the logic goes. She may maintain that she tried to be impartial (by keeping it off the show), but she recognises that she is a media personality (and profits off that personality) so perhaps she should have known better than to rub in her behind-the-scenes involvement by talking about it:

I thought the speech was transcendent … [That’s] what I thought. I thought the speech made us all feel we can do better, be better, walk taller, be higher. I just have never experienced anything like that.

Some even suggest her pushing of weird new age books may also have driven away some of her audience.

It’s an interesting discussion and one that seems to be only getting started. oprah has always proven herself a resourceful business woman and I don’t think that this story has fully developed yet. I think that what we’ve seen is the set-up of a bit of soul-searching on the part of the queen of daytime television.

I don’t get to watch the show, but I will certainly be watching this story.

One Response

  1. The Queen never dies.She simply fades away.Oprah will always be number one in my affections.I never miss her shows.I loved the one she had with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The queen is dead?.Nah.Oprah rules for ever.

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