In the end, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” finale on Wednesday was perfectly calibrated: No guests. No fireworks. Not even any ostentatious giveaways. Just Oprah, sharing the stage she’s dominated for 25 years with nobody except those fans who wept at the mere sight of her.
It wasn’t a TV program, though, not in the conventional sense. The hour played like more of a sermon, with Winfrey using her last show to give a final pitch (on this platform, anyway) for her “Live your best life” creed, insisting hosting the program that has made her a billionaire is “what I was called to do,” and urging her followers (the term is chosen with some thought) to find their own, perhaps more modest calling, whatever that might be.
Of course, that advice also carried plenty of New Age platitudes that sounded suspiciously, in part, like “The Secret” and some of the other self-help exercises that have become central to Winfrey’s philosophy.
“You will receive in direct proportion to how you give,” she said at one point, later adding “Nobody but you is responsible for your life.”
It’s a message of self-empowerment, to be sure, but also one that doesn’t really take into account the question of life throwing us curveballs that might be beyond our control. Live by Oprah’s rules, she tells us, and everything will ultimately be OK.
There was some reminiscing — both about Oprah’s life and her program — in the course of Wednesday’s show, and Winfrey even acknowledged her tabloid period before her rebirth as a kind of spiritual guru. She spoke of God and Jesus, of listening for the voice that will guide you if you just let it. It’s a reassuring image, especially for anyone less fortunate and privileged than Winfrey.
The odd part about this end to the syndicated series (there was even a promotional baton pass to the Oprah-produced “Dr. Oz”) is that Winfrey intends to remain a force, funneling her energies into the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Still, “Oprah’s” end does close a chapter, at least, on the television business, since nobody is ever likely to strike paydirt again in quite the way that Winfrey and King World did with this series. Everything about “Oprah” — including Roger King beating up cab drivers and throwing ridiculously lavish NATPE parties — spoke to a free-wheeling era that isn’t completely over (people can still make plenty of money in TV), but won’t likely be replicated on the same financial or cultural scale.
Granted, the whole thing was cloying and saccharine, self-aggrandizing and yet oddly comforting. In short, it was everything that has made “Oprah” such a resounding success.
“You, and this show, have been the great love of my life,” Winfrey said to her TV audience, tearfully, near the end.
It’s hard not to marvel at her skill as a communicator — her ability to reach through the screen and forge a bond. She spoke of the show as a classroom, one where she learned as much as her viewers did. She thanked, well, pretty much everyone.
For all that, you sort of wonder if Winfrey hasn’t made a huge mistake — prematurely walking away, as she put it, from the “great love of my life.” There are a lot of perks associated with being Oprah, sure, but as OWN’s early struggles demonstrate, that kind of love is the one thing money can’t buy.