The Glory of Oprah
Why the “talkinest child” understands women and the power of television better than anyone else
THE THREE-EPISODE FINALE of The Oprah Winfrey Show consisted of a two-part spectacular at the United Center in Chicago and a final sermon delivered from the show’s studio at Harpo Productions. Together, these three hours of television encompassed many of the program’s enduring concerns: celebrity, philanthropy, Dale Carnegie-style positive thinking, and—the true foundation of the show and its creator—the theology of the black Baptist Church that raised her. “To God be the glory,” were her final words to us from her stage, a sentiment sure to inflame her legion of critics (what a pompous way to sign off from an afternoon chat show!), and one that explains, more than anything else, how this remarkable woman created a vast financial empire and became one of the most influential figures in the private lives of millions of American women.
Despite the grandeur and moment of the three-parter, despite its show-stopping intensity and buckled-down determination to sum up a 25-year mission, the true genome of the project was revealed in a run-of-the-mill episode weeks earlier. No Aretha Franklin belting out “Amazing Grace” to thousands, no Diane Sawyer announcing the planting of 25,000 oak trees in Oprah’s name, no funny pictorial of tragic hairstyles—just Oprah sitting down and talking, woman-to-woman, about certain aspects of the female experience.