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25 moments from Oprah's 25 years in daytime talk

The Oprah Winfrey Show finale

4 p.m.


WFAA/Channel 8

Posted 8:51am on Wednesday, May. 25, 2011

When we started throwing around the idea of what to do to commemorate Oprah Winfrey's final first-run show, which airs Wednesday after 25 years of Oprah ruling daytime television, we thought, "25 years, 25 moments in Oprah Winfrey Show history." Hardly original, but it has a nice symmetry to it.

Then, whaddaya know, O Magazine did the same thing. But we're sticking to our guns, because great minds think alike, even if the great mind behind The Oprah Winfrey Show, O Magazine, Oprah Winfrey Network and a slew of other projects has more money than the entire Star-Telegram staff combined.

We just decided to do our list (culled mainly from Star-Telegram archives) before looking at the O list. And maybe our minds aren't so great, because only a few of our picks matched up with O's picks. Maybe our idea of "moments" was different from those of the O folks.

1. Sept. 8, 1986: Having done a successful local show in Chicago since 1984 (after less-comfortable stops in Baltimore and Nashville), Winfrey takes The Oprah Winfrey Show into national syndication. Her first show is titled "How To Marry the Man/Woman of Your Choice." On The Oprah Winfrey Show 20th Anniversary Collection DVD set, Winfrey says that fellow Chicago icon Roger Ebert suggested that syndication could work for her show and that he helped get the ball rolling toward it happening. She also says that she was filming The Color Purple while the deal was in the works and was more focused on having a movie career at the time. (On the O list.)

2. Nov. 10, 1986: During a show on childhood sexual abuse, Winfrey reveals to her audience that she was raped by a relative when she was 9 years old. She has remained an advocate in fighting child abuse.

3. The 1988 "fat wagon" episode, in which a svelte Winfrey wheeled out a red wagon filled with 67 pounds of fat, representing the amount of weight she had lost on a liquid diet. Oprah's struggles with her weight would be a recurring theme throughout her show's run, and really, who can't relate to that? (On the O list.)

4. September 1993: For the first time, Winfrey tops Forbes' list of the highest-paid entertainers, having earned a reported $98 million in the past year.

5. On an Oct. 23, 1993 episode, Diana Ross says that the oldest of her three daughters was fathered by Motown founder Berry Gordy but raised by Ross' first husband, Bob Silberstein. The revelation wasn't even in Secrets of a Sparrow, the autobiography that Ross was promoting at the time.

6. April 1996: After Howard Lyman, a vegetarian, makes comments about mad-cow disease on Winfrey's show, Rick Perry -- then the Texas agriculture commissioner -- urges Texas Attorney General Dan Morales to sue under Texas' 1995 False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products Act. Morales declines, but Paul Engler, owner of Cactus Feeders of Amarillo, sues Winfrey and Lyman in a case that ultimately brings Winfrey to Amarillo for six weeks for a 1998 trial; she taped 29 shows in the city. Winfrey won in the trial, but appeals and other suits keep the case alive until 2002.

7 . September 1996: "Oprah's Book Club" debuts with Jacquelyn Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, and a bestseller-making machine is born. Total number of Book Club picks: 65. (On the O list.)

8. November 1996: Winfrey debuts "Oprah's Favorite Things," an annual show in which members of the studio audience receive some of her favorite things, free. The first gift? Karen Neuberger pajamas. On the 20th Anniversary Collection, Winfrey says that this episode is so popular that being in the studio audience is the hottest ticket on television. Alas, she did her final "Favorite Things" show last year.

9. Sept. 9, 1998: Having been overtaken by Jerry Springer as the top daytime talk host, Winfrey begins her 13th season vowing "positive" TV and regains the mountaintop by sticking to that pledge. Of course, she had done plenty of positive TV before this.

10. Oct. 12, 1998: Dr. Phil McGraw makes his first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The no-nonsense relationship guru (who graduated from the University of North Texas when it was still North Texas State) and Winfrey met in 1997, when a trial-services firm he co-founded advised her on the "veggie libel" suit. Dr. Phil has made the most guest appearances by a male guest on Oprah, with 118. (Only Winfrey's best friend, Gayle King, has him beat, with 139 at press time; Celine Dion and Chris Rock are the most frequent guests who aren't part of Winfrey's inner circle.) Dr. Phil now has his own show, of course, as do frequent Oprah contributors Dr. Mehmet Oz and designer Nate Berkus. (On the O list, with some additions by us.)

11. October 2001: Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, causes a stir when he says he's uncomfortable and conflicted about the book being an Oprah's Book Club selection, although he consented to the pick.

12. April 2002: Saying that it has become too difficult to find quality fiction every month, Winfrey shuts down her book club. She revives it the next year, putting an emphasis on classics rather than current literature.

13. Sept. 14, 2004: Winfrey causes a near-riot in the studio when she launches her 19th season by giving each of her 276 audience members a new Pontiac G6. (On the O list -- and probably everyone else's.)

14. Sept. 20, 2004: In one of her most emotional shows, Winfrey pays tribute to Mattie Stepanek, a young poet with a rare form of muscular dystrophy who died that year at age 13.

15. April 6, 2005: Tickets -- 5,000 of them -- to the Dallas stop of Winfrey's "Live Your Best Life" tour sell out in minutes, even though they're $185 a pop. One woman tells the Star-Telegram that she bought her Dallas tickets after the stop in her own city, Washington, D.C., sold out. OK, that's not actually from the show, but it's a part of Winfrey history that the show made possible.

16. May 23, 2005: In a display of how much he loves his then-girlfriend/now wife, Katie Holmes, a maniacally grinning Tom Cruise jumps on Winfrey's sofa. "You're gone!" Winfrey exclaims at this public show of affection by the usually private Cruise.

17. Dec. 1, 2005: Oprah appears on The Late Show With David Letterman, ending a 16-year "feud" that supposedly started because she had felt uncomfortable the first two times she appeared. "Whatever it is you thought was happening, it's over," Winfrey tells Letterman. "There is no feud. There's only peace and love and ..."

"... and admiration," Letterman says. (According to the O list, Letterman would not appear on Oprah till 2007, after a six-year campaign to be on the show.)

18. Jan. 26, 2006: Oprah chastises author James Frey for making up much of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, a book-club selection. "I feel duped, but more importantly," Winfrey says, "I feel that you betrayed millions of readers." This gains much media attention, once again illustrating Winfrey's power -- Frey's biggest sin isn't that he lied, but that he lied to Oprah .

19. November 2006: Illustrating her struggles with on-again, off-again weight and weight loss, actress Kirstie Alley struts onto the stage in a cranberry bikini, revealing her "un-actressy" body.

20. 1997: Inspired by a young girl who collected change for charity and who appeared on her show a couple of years earlier, Winfrey launches the Oprah's Angel Network, inviting viewers to collect their spare change and donate it toward increasing access to education. The network ultimately donated to organizations in more than 30 countries, including the United States.

21. Sept. 23, 2009: Former One Day at a Time star Mackenzie Phillips drops a bomb, saying that she had had a 10-year incestuous relationship with her father, John Phillips, of the Mamas & the Papas.

22. March 2009: For the first time since her "veggie libel" trial, Winfrey returns to Texas to do a show on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, the polygamist compound south of San Angelo. The show followed one man, his three wives and their nine children.

23. Oct. 11-12, 2009: Winfrey and best friend Gayle King visit the State Fair of Texas (for an episode that airs two weeks later). The pair draw huge crowds and, as Winfrey puts it, eat their way through the fair and its famous fried offerings. "I think I'm in a food coma," Winfrey tells the crowd.

24. Nov. 20, 2009: Winfrey announces that she will end the show at the end of the 2010-11 season, after 25 years in syndication. Millions of viewers begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

25. Winfrey's cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network, debuts to respectable ratings but quickly begins to struggle. In a May interview with Entertainment Weekly, Winfrey says that the network is not where she wants it to be and says that because of The Oprah Winfrey Show, she hasn't been able to devote much time to it -- but she hopes that will change after the show ends.

Sources: Star-Telegram archives; O, The Oprah Magazine; The Oprah Winfrey Show 20th Anniversary Collection; Oprah's Angel Network (oprahsangelnetwork.org); Oprah.com; Internet Movie Database (imdb.com); Amazon.com

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