“I’m Oprah Winfrey, and welcome to the very first national Oprah Winfrey Show,” the 32-year old host shouted to an excited audience on Sept. 8. 1986. It’s been over three decades since those words were immortalized in television history and signaled her introduction to the country as a television host, which followed her Oscar-nominated role in The Color Purple.
Viewers in Chicago were familiar with Winfrey because she was the host of the low-rated morning talk show A.M. Chicago. The show, which launched in 1983, was such a success that it reached first place in the ratings. That feat led to Winfrey, with her huge personality and big hair, inking a deal in 1986, making her the first Black woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show.
A.M. Chicago was renamed after the talk show host and the rest, as they say, was history.
Winfrey’s relatability helped the show find major success. The Oprah Winfrey Show covered a vast array of topics, from people’s love lives (her first show was called “How to Marry the Man/Woman of Your Choice”) to struggles with weight loss and dieting (In one episode, Winfrey revealed she lost 67 pounds and wheeled out a wagon with that much fat in it).
Winfrey’s interviewing style allowed people, from those suffering a tremendous loss to presidents of the United States, to open up in a way that hadn’t been seen on television before.
Her show was a vehicle for movie stars to promote their new films and for authors to have their big break if one of their books were selected for her extremely popular Oprah’s Book Club. It’s estimated that the “Oprah edition” of the books chosen sold 55 million copies.
After 47 Daytime Emmy Awards and 25 years on the air, Winfrey ended the show in 2011. It’s still the highest-rated talk show in history and while others have tried to duplicate her success, very few have come close.
Where else could you find a show where the host is chatting with President Barack Obama one day and then discussing spirituality and self-improvement the next?
Where else would viewers find Tom Cruise jumping on a couch, expressing his undying love for his then-girlfriend Katie Holmes?
The Oprah Winfrey Show was daytime television at its best and while the host has gone on to launch The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) that features gripping dramas such as Queen Sugar, which she produces or a talk show such as Super Soul Sunday, which she hosts, that dives deeper into spiritual teachings.
The show helped Winfrey become the United States’ first Black multi-billionaire and helped make her one of the most influential people in the world and its television legacy will be felt forever.
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Teddy is a multimedia journalist who serves as the culture and political writer for EBONY. His work has appeared in NBC's Owned and Operated stations, as well as DNAInfo, which covered local neighborhood news in New York City. He received his Masters in Journalism from the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.