CHICAGO -- Holding back tears, Oprah Winfrey told her studioaudience Friday that she would end her show in 2011 after aquarter-century on the air, saying "prayer and careful thought"led her to her decision.
Winfrey told the audience that she loved "The Oprah WinfreyShow," that it had been her life and that she knew when it wastime to say goodbye. "Twenty-five years feels right in my bonesand feels right in my spirit," she said.
Winfrey talked about being nervous when the program began in1986, and thanked audiences who had invited her into their homesover the past two decades.
"I certainly never could have imagined the yellow brick road ofblessings that would have led me to this moment," she said.
The powerhouse show became the foundation for hermultibillion-dollar media empire, but in the last year, has seenits ratings slip 7 percent. Winfrey, 55, is widely expected tostart up a new talk show on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, amuch-delayed joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc. thatis projected to debut in 2011. OWN is to replace the DiscoveryHealth Channel and will debut in some 74 million homes.
Winfrey said she and her staff were going to brainstorm ideasfor the final season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and that shehoped viewers would take "this 18-month ride with me."
In Season 25, "we are going to knock your socks off," shesaid. "The countdown to the end of `The Oprah Winfrey Show' startsnow."
CBS Television Distribution, which distributes the show to morethan 200 U.S. markets, held out hope it could continue doingbusiness with Winfrey, perhaps producing a new show out of itsstudios in Los Angeles.
"We know that anything she turns her hand to will be a greatsuccess," the CBS Corp. unit said in a statement. "We lookforward to working with her for the next several years, andhopefully afterwards as well."
Many fans heading into Harpo Studios on Friday morning seemed tosupport Winfrey's decision to end the show.
"You always want to end a show when people want more - and notwhen people are sick of watching you," said Rebecca Switaj, 31, ofChicago.
Said Sandra Donaldson, 59, of Indianapolis: "It's time toelevate to something new. Whatever she does is going to be ablessing. It's going to be rewarding and eye-opening. Her namealone opens doors."
Once a local Chicago morning program, the production evolvedinto television's top-rated talk show for more than two decades,airing in 145 countries worldwide and watched by an estimated 42million viewers a week in the U.S. alone.
"Oprah Winfrey is in a category of her own," said RobertThompson, professor of television and popular culture at SyracuseUniversity. "This is a great American story and like any greatAmerican story it's supersized."
Fans expressed hope that Winfrey would announce another projecton Friday.
"Oprah, she impacts everybody, her life, the way she gives,"Shawana Fletcher, 29, of Chicago, said outside Harpo Studios. "Ihope she's not totally done. That's what we're praying."
Winfrey's 24th season opened this year with a bang, as she drewmore than 20,000 fans to Chicago's Magnificent Mile for a blockparty with the Black Eyed Peas. She followed with a series ofblockbuster interviews - Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, singerWhitney Houston and ESPN's Erin Andrews, and just this week, formerAlaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
As a newcomer, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" chipped away attalk-show king Phil Donahue's dominance. Later, it turned toinspiration. The show's coverage ranged from interviews with theworld's celebrities to an honest discussion about Winfrey's weightstruggles.
"As the show evolved, it really kind of dressed up theneighborhood of the daytime talk show," Thompson said.
In 1986, pianist-showman Liberace gave his final TV interview toWinfrey, just six weeks before he died. In a 1993 prime-timespecial, Michael Jackson revealed he suffered from a skin conditionthat produces depigmentation. Tom Cruise enthusiastically declaredhis affection for the much-younger Katie Holmes on the program in2005 - and jumped on the couch to prove it.
In 2004, Winfrey unveiled her most famous giveaway, when nearly300 members of the studio audience opened a gift box to find thekeys to a new car inside. The stunt became a classic show moment asmuch for Winfrey's reaction - "You get a car! You get a car! Youget a car! Everybody gets a car!" - as its $7 million price tag.
The show also became a launching pad for Oprah's Book Club,which then launched best-sellers. The titles ranged from "Song ofSolomon" and "Paradise" by Toni Morrison to Wally Lamb's "She'sCome Undone" and Elie Wiesel's "Night."
For others, the selection backfired. "A Million Little Pieces"exploded in sales after Winfrey chose the James Frey memoir in fall2005. Soon after, it was revealed as a fabricated tale of addictionand recovery, and Winfrey later chewed out Frey on her show.
"I call her `Queen of the New Consciousness' because she did somany things to change lives, the books that she promoted," saidhip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
The loss of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" would be a blow to CBSCorp., which earns a percentage of hefty licensing fees from TVstations that use it - largely ABC affiliates. CBS Chief ExecutiveLeslie Moonves told analysts two weeks ago that the contract withthe show runs through most of 2011 and "if there's a negativeimpact, it wouldn't hit us until '12."
"Oprah's been a force of media and there's really no person youcan look to out there who you could say, `That's the heirapparent,"' said Larry Gerbrandt, an analyst for Media ValuationPartners in Los Angeles. Gerbrandt noted many stations build theirschedules around Winfrey's show.
"It's a big loss, but not as huge as it would have been 10years ago," he said. "However, it still commands the biggestaudience and ABC station competitors are licking their chops."
Talk of the show's end often has accompanied Winfrey's contractnegotiations. Before signing her current contract in 2004, shetalked about quitting after the 2005-2006 season. As far back as1995, she called continuing "a difficult and important decision."
Winfrey started her broadcasting career in Nashville, Tenn., andBaltimore, Md., before relocating to Chicago in 1984 to hostWLS-TV's morning talk show "A.M. Chicago" - which became "TheOprah Winfrey Show" one year later. She set up Harpo the followingyear and her talk show went into syndication.
Powered by the show's staggering success, Winfrey built a mediaempire. Harpo Studios produces shows hosted by Dr. Phil McGraw andcelebrity chef Rachael Ray. O, The Oprah Magazine was the nation's7th most popular magazine in the first half of 2009.
"I came from nothing," Winfrey wrote in the 1998 book"Journey to Beloved." "No power. No money. Not even my thoughtswere my own. I had no free will. No voice. Now, I have the freedom,power, and will to speak to millions every day - having come fromnowhere."
Earlier this year, Forbes scored Winfrey's net worth at $2.7billion.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times