Winfrey Offers Farewell ‘Love Letter’ as Show Ends 25-Year Run

Oprah Winfrey, who parlayed a Chicago talk show into a multibillion-dollar media empire, said goodbye to her 25-year-old afternoon TV program in a reflective final broadcast without guests, surprises or giveaways.

“I’m truly amazed that I, who started out in rural Mississippi in 1954 when the vision for a black girl was limited to be either a maid or a teacher in a segregated school, could end up here,” Winfrey, 57, said during the final broadcast of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” “You all have been a safe harbor for me.”

Describing the last show as a “love letter” to her audience, Winfrey spent the hour reflecting on the highlights of 4,561 shows, and the lessons she and her viewers learned. Leading up to the finale, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and actors Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise appeared as guests during the last weeks.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which first aired in 1986, drew about 12 million viewers in the U.S. at its peak and hosted about 30,000 guests on more than 4,500 episodes, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in the May 23 edition. It was the fifth most-watched syndicated show last week, with an average audience of 7.35 million, according to Nielsen Co. data.

Winfrey is leaving her weekday talk show to focus on the 24-hour cable channel she and her Chicago-based production company, Harpo, started with Silver Spring, Maryland-based Discovery Communications Inc. (DISCA) Viewership of the Oprah Winfrey Network has slid 25 percent since beginning in January.

Thanks to Viewers

“I thank you for tuning in everyday, along with your mothers, your sisters and your daughters, your partners gay and otherwise, your friends and all the husbands who got coaxed into watching Oprah,” Winfrey said in her closing remarks. “I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just say until we meet again.”

With the broadcast show over, Winfrey will begin appearing more frequently on OWN. In September, the cable channel will begin carrying vintage episodes of her talk show. OWN plans to air 60 with new intros taped by Winfrey. In January, she will start a new show, “Oprah’s Next Chapter.” The host committed to appear on OWN about 70 hours a year, double what she initially planned.

Winfrey has met with Broadway producers and may hit the stage soon, the Chicago Tribune reported May 9, citing the host. She has also dabbled in Hollywood. Winfrey received an Oscar nomination in 1986 for her role in “The Color Purple.”

She was executive producer of “Precious,” a 2009 film that won two Oscars. And she was the voice of a character in Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s 2009 film “The Princess and the Frog.”

Media Empire

Taking advantage of her show’s popularity, Winfrey introduced O, The Oprah Magazine, created satellite radio shows, produced films and developed syndicated TV shows with frequent guests on her program including Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz. Each success increased her fortune, estimated today at $2.7 billion by Forbes magazine.

Winfrey has given audience members more than 160 products featured on her show, including electronics, kitchen appliances and Volkswagen AG Beetles.

Her show also produced memorable TV moments.

Professing his love for girlfriend and actress Katie Holmes, Cruise jumped on Winfrey’s couches on air while promoting “Mission Impossible: III.” The antics cost the movie $100 million in box-office sales, according to Viacom Inc. (VIA/B) Chairman Sumner Redstone, who later decided not to renew the actor’s Paramount Pictures contract.

Initial ratings for the final episode will be available tomorrow, according to Nielsen. Detailed results won’t be ready until June 7 because syndicated shows air at different times in different markets.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net; Beth Jinks in New York at bjinks1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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