However, the producers of both “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and O’Donnell’s new venture acknowledge that despite occupying the same set, the format and audiences will not be the same. “O’Donnell represents a much different demographic,” said Andrew Freast, an associate producer. “Oprah’s providing Rosie with a top-notch crew and a great stage, but the similarities end there. This is not going to be ‘Oprah’ starring Rosie O’Donnell. But we do have something special planned for diehard Oprah Winfrey fans. This isn’t the end, but a new beginning.”
The Queen is Dead
Although Winfrey informed audiences in 2009 that she would be ending production on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2011, the final air date remained unknown until this week. Winfrey said that she was ready for a change, and wanted to turn her attention to her struggling cable network, OWN, which received a lukewarm reception following its launch in January.
For the millions of ardent followers who grew up with “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” news of the series finale was met with tears and emotional distress.
“My husband beats the hell out of me,” lamented one viewer in Missouri. “The only solace I have is Oprah. She empowers me. She makes me realize that it’s not my fault, and that help is out there for me. Once the show’s over, what am I going to do? Donny’s just gonna start abusing me again, and I’ll be all alone.”
Ralph Maersk, a recovering drug addict from Nebraska, said that the daily moments of inspiration he receives from “Oprah” have changed his perspective. Without them, he fears, his life will return to the doldrums, or worse.
“After high school, I never picked up a book. I was a junkie. Now I read all the time. Without Oprah’s Book Club, how am I going to find the material I crave? Where do you even find good books? I can go to Barnes and Noble, ‘cause Borders is closed, but if the gold Oprah sticker isn’t plastered on the cover of the book, there’s no way of knowing whether it’s quality or crap. Without literature in my life, I worry that I’ll just head back to the needle and male prostitution.”
Sally DiStefanovich, an original Oprah admirer and frequent studio audience member, agreed with Maersk, citing the life-altering power of the book “The Secret,” which Oprah bestowed upon America during a special episode.
“‘The Secret’ changed my entire world, just as it did to the worlds of so many others. I learned how to lose weight -- well, I’m still in the process -- by refusing to acknowledge the existence of fat people. I learned that I can survive natural disasters by not ‘being on the same frequency as the event.’ If I were in Japan, and I had been using my powers of positive thinking, nothing would’ve happened to me. So, you gotta wonder about all the dead, right?”
DiStefanovich also said that “The Secret,” actually penned by Rhonda Byrne, gave her renewed hope for her financial future through its teachings of aggressive positive thinking and victim blaming.
“You know, according to studies, only one in 22 people in America actually have the chance to move into a class above the one they were born into, and that the wealthy already had wealth, and that 85 percent of the riches in America belong to less than 20 percent of the people. But Oprah is one of those success stories. She was dirt poor, but look at her now. Obama too, I think. More people could believe in the American Dream if they could make themselves believe in it. You know, stop focusing on all the hard evidence against it and start blaming the poor people for being poor -- for dragging us all down with their negative poverty energy. So if I just pray really hard and wish for success, I have a .04 percent chance myself. That’s better than nothing, which is where I’d placed my odds before reading the book.”
And a fan from California said, “I was really hoping to win a car. I need a new car.”
Long Live the Queen
Oprah’s departure, according to media analysts, leaves a hole in ABC’s ratings as well as the damaged psyches of millions of viewers. But the show’s producers assure fans that they have a plan to fill in the gaps.
“Oprah will always be around, just like God,” said Andrew Freast. “She’s not leaving our lives; she’s just moving on to new projects, such as OWN. But we also realize the impact and value of ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and we have no desire to leave audiences or shareholders in the lurch. So we’ve found a replacement.”
This morning, ABC executives announced that Tyler Perry, creator of the immensely profitable Madea film franchise, will be dusting off his fat lady suit to step in for Oprah.
Mabel “Madea” Simmons is Perry’s fictional 6’5”, overweight, argumentative senior citizen who has appeared in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea’s Family Reunion,” “Meet the Browns,” “Madea Goes to Jail,” “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” and most recently, “Madea’s Big Happy Family.”
Perry’s publicist says that they are still working out the kinks, but that the costuming will be “appropriate and true to the spirit of Oprah. This isn’t Madea, it’s Oprah. The fat suit will work just fine, but we’re completely reinventing the makeup, attire, and hair.”
Insiders say that Perry had initially considered aligning the Oprah character to Madea’s confrontational personality, overhauling the show’s format with the working title “The Oprer Winfrer Show.” But he relented, opting instead to provide a straight characterization of Oprah Winfrey.
Producers assure audiences that the differences will be imperceptible. Said Freast, “Oprah is more than a woman -- she’s a mentor, a counselor, a brand. Tyler Perry, from what we’ve seen in rehearsals, will truly honor those qualities. He grew up watching the show, and says that Oprah was the single biggest inspiration for beginning his writing career. If anyone can fill her shoes, both physically and spiritually, we believe Tyler Perry’s our man...or woman, that is.”
New episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” starring Tyler Perry, are tentatively scheduled to begin around December 2011.