The impact of Oprah's exit

November 20, 2009 1:28:36 PM PST
What makes the Oprah Winfrey canceling-her-show announcement so huge -- isn't that a long-running show is coming to an end (in Sept., 2011). Nor is it that it presents an interesting challenge for all those ABC affiliates around the country that have relied on her for the past 23 or so years. Although both of those are newsworthy.

The biggest part of the Winfrey story, I think, is that she very well may represent the last of the giant personalities to dominate broadcast television.

Oh, there are folks who have been around for awhile and who are enormously popular - Regis Philbin and David Letterman come immediately to mind. But Oprah Winfrey is in a league by herself - both in terms of ratings (42 million Americans watch her every week in the U.S.), wealth (Forbes puts her net worth at more than $2.5 billion), and influence (her early endorsement of Barack Obama helped get his candidacy airborne, and we know an appearance on or endorsement by Oprah can send a product or book sales skyrocketing).

Her departure will not only change the landscape of daytime television, but also mark the end of the bigger-than-life star on what used to be called over-the-air television. Oprah's entry into cable - where she's started/starting her own network - is a clear sign of that.

What's fascinating about this is that there's no way Oprah on cable can come close to having the kind of audience she enjoyed for her show on broadcast TV. But the world has changed, and perhaps Ms. Winfrey sees that. Or perhaps 24 years of doing the same show gets old.

Either way, it's been quite a ride - and her show has had quite an impact. It is hard, in fact, to overestimate how influential her show has been.

And, the job part of it aside, what a great thing to look for new challenges in life, as she apparently is doing. It's something we should all do - all the time.

We'll have the latest on Winfrey's big announcement, tonight at 11.

We've received so many emails from viewers about Winfrey's announcement. If you'd like to add your two-cents, please CLICK HERE.

And as long as I'm on the click-here theme ? our new website has a neat feature that allows you to read my older columns, email me directly or comment on the column. Simply CLICK HERE to visit the Behind The News channel.

Also at 11, a goodbye to another dear friend tonight. Tappy Phillips, an Eyewitness News staffer for more than two decades and the force behind 7 On Your Side since 1996, will air her last story for us tonight. She has decided to retire. We're happy for her, but so sad for us.

First the story tonight: A few weeks ago, Tappy reported on how some Burger King customers were being charged unknowingly for some items like pickles or lettuce. Turns out, it's a problem that goes far beyond the local Burger King. Tappy's story tonight shows us how folks across the nation are now trying to get disclosed all the extras they're getting charged for.

Now to Tappy the person. Tappy has no idea how popular she is - it's one of the things that makes her so cool and so appealing. She is smart and hard-working and intrepid. She also has the tenacity of a bull-dog, and she uses it for what journalism is supposed to be about: To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Tappy has done that, fighting for people who have been wronged.

In the process, Tappy has made on-camera confrontations a staple of her stories. But her reports didn't really focus so much on the bad guys as they did on the people who were looking for their own justice. Sure she got lots of money returned to people who were ripped off. But Tappy's stories were more than just about money, they were about right and wrong.

We're going to miss her. And we wish her luck, as she goes about figuring the Act Two of her life.

Speaking of wrong, this crossed the wire today, and we thought we'd pass it on. The Federal Election Commission, charged with upholding ethics in elections, voted to allow U.S. Senate candidates to use corporate jets for their travels. Candidates had been prohibited from doing that.

We're not exactly clear why this new rule, but it seems to fly (no pun) in the face of cleaning up politics.

I'm just sayin'.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20 and Barbara Walter's interview with Sarah Palin.

BILL RITTER


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