Moreover, the Earth will almost certainly still be spinning on its axis.
Even in Chicago, the city Oprah Winfrey is abandoning, life is pretty sure to continue as normal. Expect the pizza to be as tasty and the gusts off Lake Michigan to be as persistent on Thursday as they were the day before.
This is not to say change isn’t in the wind.
As everybody knows, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is ending Wednesday after a spectacularly successful, quarter-century run, and the air is thick with “we-shall-not-see-its-likes-again” eulogies.
Understandable. After being a long fixture on daytime TV as well as in the national psyche, it may be hard for us to imagine how the 60-minute void Oprah is leaving can be filled. (Though it won’t need to be filled until September. “Oprah” reruns will air on most stations throughout the summer months, helping viewers through their process of withdrawal.)
The closest thing to an heir apparent seems to be “Dr. Oz,” the Winfrey-produced talk show whose star, Dr. Mehmet Oz, one of Winfrey’s proteges. In many markets he’s being rewarded with the 4 p.m. slot where “Oprah” reigned for so long.
But there is no clear consensus. In a few markets, the former “Oprah” station will forgo any syndicated replacement and instead launch an added hour of local news.
In short, these are big shoes to fill as Oprah Winfrey walks away.
Of course, her leave-taking has caught no one by surprise. She made it official in November 2009, declaring that “the countdown to the end of `The Oprah Winfrey Show’ starts now.”
At the time, I invited Oprah fans to get an early start on the grieving process as they began planning how to deal with the loss. I noted that, for a generation, Winfrey “has been our moral arbiter, lifestyle coach and window on the world.
“How then,” I posed, “will we manage without Oprah as a daily TV reference point? How will we know what to read, buy or think?”
On the other hand, as Oprah walks away, how far is she really walking?
Granted, she’ll reside 1,800 miles from Chicago, in Santa Barbara, Calif. But she will not be silent nor invisible. Her 5-month-old cable channel, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, is meant to be a round-the-clock, always-open source of Oprah-nalia, with Winfrey its spiritual curator maintaining a constant presence, even from off-camera.
Since its Jan. 1 sign-on, the network has suffered from lower-than-expected ratings, and, early this month, fired its CEO. But it’s just getting started, and, with the end of her syndicated show, Winfrey plans to devote her full energies to OWN.
As one of the network’s future offerings she will star on “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” whose title signals how she views her ambitious new TV venture overall. And though most of OWN’s programming won’t be hosted by her, everything will be vetted by her to make sure the message fits into her live-your-best-life gospel.
So how much in the world is really changing?
A heart-tugging promo for this week’s last three editions of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” taps into the collective memory the audience shares for certain other shows on the occasion of their passing.
Seen in the commercial are Walter Cronkite’s last “CBS Evening News” broadcast (March 6, 1981). Mary Richards dimming the lights in the WJM newsroom (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” finale from March 19, 1977). Johnny Carson’s emotional “I bid you a very heartfelt good night,” his last moments hosting the “Tonight Show” (May 22, 1992). Sam (Ted Danson) telling a would-be bar patron, “Sorry, we’re closed,” on the “Cheers” finale (May 20, 1993). A glimpse at the finales of “The Cosby Show” (April 30, 1992) and “M-A-S-H” (Feb. 28, 1983), which was viewed by just under 106 million people, an audience record that stood until the epic New Orleans Saints-Indianapolis Colts clash in the 2010 Super Bowl.
The “Oprah” commercial asks: “Where were you?” And its unspoken but obvious subtext elevates the Winfrey show’s exit to the lofty ranks of those TV milestones. You will want to be there (it seems to be saying), gathered with your loved ones in front of the TV, where you are guaranteed an “I-was-there” memory for a lifetime when Oprah says goodbye.
The episodes airing Monday and Tuesday were taped last week in front of crowd of 13,000 at Chicago’s United Center.
Tom Hanks. Michael Jordan. Tom Cruise. Madonna. Stevie Wonder. Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Beyonce. Even Winfrey’s longtime but low-profile friend, Stedman Graham, was among the many luminaries on hand for the two-part “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular.”
Then Wednesday’s show, being kept tight under wraps, is meant as a surprise for the viewers.
Sounds like fun, if you happen to catch it. But after that, you won’t have to look hard to find Oprah. She pervades her new network.
The rest of the world? It will carry on as always.