"I won’t say, 'goodbye.’ I’ll just say, 'until we meet again.’" And with that, Oprah Winfrey ascended into the heavenly firmament.
Well, no. After 25 years of hosting The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Queen of All Media on Wednesday took a victory lap, signing off with an hour of reflection on Her mission and teachings.
Unobstructed by any celebrity cameo appearances or car-giveaway gimmicks, the final installment of the most successful syndicated talk show in history was a Valentine to Her viewers and Ms. Winfrey Herself.
Speaking to Her studio audience and perhaps as many as 30 million TV viewers, Oprah got the ball rolling by declaring that Her final show would be a stripped-down affair. "There will be no guests, there will be no makeovers, no surprises . . . you will not be getting a car or a treat," Oprah said. "This last hour is really about me saying, 'thank you.’ It is my love letter to you."
What followed was 55 minutes of catechism, as Oprah reminded Her flock of all the many wonders She hath wrought over the course of the last quarter century. Speaking in that all-too-familiar voice, the husky molasses rasp that often veers off into a strangely hooting baritone, Oprah spoke of all the good She has helped achieve with Her television chat show.
At times, Oprah seemed to recall a decidedly less manic version of Chris Farley’s beloved motivational speaker, Matt Foley. At others, the program took on the trappings of a televised church service, a Mass for shut-ins led by a deacon who looked to connect with Her flock via the mushy platitudes of self-help books and a sort of generic spiritualism.
Talk of "Gratitude Journals" and "A-Ha Moments" gave way to hosannas to the Big Guy Upstairs. And to Her credit as a masterful broadcaster, Oprah’s monologue never felt forced or patched together.
Before show’s end, Oprah invoked Maya Angelou and gave Tyler Perry a nod for helping men come forward with their tales of childhood sexual abuse. Clips of long-ago guest performances by the likes of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston led to a parade of "regular folks," the non-celebs who made up the bulk of Oprah’s human-interest programming. There were the drunk moms, the hideously maimed optimists, the wife beaters, and the acolytes who came to Chicago to declare their sexual orientation at the feet of Lady Winfrey.
As a finale, the Oprah broadcast was restrained (and, at times, torpid), although the hour did remain faithful to the presiding genius that informs brand O. When not projecting variations on the first-person pronoun to the cameras with all the heat and passion of a testifying Revelator (or Lennon's Walrus), Oprah referred to Herself in the third person.
Ultimately, it’s worth noting that Her departure from daytime doesn’t spell the end of all things Oprah. After all, She has Her own cable network in OWN, a joint venture with Discovery Communications. And while very few are watching (in Q1 2011, OWN averaged around 300,000 prime-time viewers), Oprah finally has the wherewithal to put all Her considerable efforts into shaping the channel.
At the end of the program, Oprah struck one last Jesus pose, raising Her arms above Her flock and shining Her benevolence down upon all of us. Before leaving the studio She had a clinch with longtime partner Steadman, and led one final cheer with the Harpo staff. But in the final frame, the human Oprah emerged; as much as She often obliterates it with the endless round of fawning celebrities and an inflated self-regard, Oprah is most effective when She shows off Her common touch.
Before the fade to black, Oprah scooped up her tawny cocker spaniel, Sadie, and repeated to the perplexed-looking little dog what She had said to Her staff on that final afternoon: "We did it. We did it."
And so She did. And television will never be quite the same as a result.