Oprah and her show have gone through a complete transformation, or evolution between 15 years ago and today. Originally, her show was modeled after Phil Donohue, who was the pioneer of the technique of working the studio audience into a talk show. Oprah, like Donohue, chooses provocative subjects and questions the un-talked-about issues. They throw out questions to the audience that are borderline outrageous, then scurry up and down the isles with their microphones.
People in the media deal with ethical issues every day, but some how catering to what's popular or what people want to hear, just for ratings, wasn't cutting it for Oprah any more.
In the fall of 1994, Oprah was conducting a two-part show on the topic, 'Are Talk Shows Bad?' She agreed with the critics that buck raking and selling out, while avoiding quality topics needed to end. Critics featured on that show said, good work, although expensive and time consuming, could be done if talk shows dared use their forums to give information that helped people. It was during that last half of the season that Oprah vowed only to do shows she felt had a chance of helping viewers and had a chance of doing good.
In 1995 and 1996, that mostly took the form of "news you can use" -- topics that exposed how easy it was to kidnap children and how to protect them. She did shows on scams, diseases, health hazards and survival techniques. Gradually, she began to introduce topics about the nature of human spirit, metaphysical expeditions, searching karma, happenstance, reasons applied to the mysteries of life ("There ARE no co-incidences," Oprah is fond of saying.)
Then with a series of shows that followed the "Running Wild with Tina Tour," Oprah extolled the strengths of character with dramatic stories of survival and triumph. Having personally dealt with abuse, she sought stories that she felt empowered women instead of allowing them to feel sorry for themselves. Women were flown in to locations in Houston TX and Los Angeles CA and surprised with rewards that represented a fix for their struggle: a house for the woman who had given up her home to save her daughters; a car for the mother who had no way to get around after she spent all her money supporting her children alone.
Oprah Online debuted with American Online and ABC in 1995. In the following year Oprah's Book Club, a phenomenally acclaimed series that chooses works of literature to discuss and extol, began. The idea would have been absurd in the old days of "shock TV," however, it is the one part of her program that critics in print and broadcast immediately cheered. It made obscure authors famous and wealthy, and readers more appreciative of good books. (1)
After that, Oprah shifted even deeper into the spiritual realm. She started with the "Change Your Life" TV theme in 1997. She explored themes about why people are what they are, what makes it possible to change for the better. She also announced the formation of Oprah's Angel Network, a national effort to encourage viewers to make charitable contributions and to do volunteer work. (2)
In 1998, Winfrey announced the formation of the Oxygen Media Network directed towards women. Her company, Harpo Productions, would be one of the main supporters for the network. Oprah's "After the Show" show airs on this station. (3)
After helping her to win the trial with the beef industry in Amarillo, Texas, Oprah asked Dr. Phil to put his principles about how people work into a book. He came on the show to help people take a fresh look at their problems, quit complaining, "get real" and face what they need to change what they don't like. Dr. Phil went on to have his own talk show dealing with dramatic confrontations and emotional breakthroughs, which is now the second highest rated show in America. (Second to Oprah.)(4)
Oprah upheld her dedication in 1994 that she would try to present "that which is good" simply because she was uniquely positioned to do it. In the 2000-2001 season, it was standard on the Oprah show and in her "O Magazine", that the quality and the subject of her topics focus on improving, developing, discovering to a deeper level each individual's inner life. Gary Zukav, author of "Soul Stories," began appearing in 1999.(5)
Cheryl Richardson, a lifestyle advisor, has been a regular expert showing women how to make a "Lifestyle Makeover," with the basics and the details for women who have been attuned to providing for others all their lives and leaving themselves last. This series shows them how, step-by-step, to ease out of the "disease to please" and the trappings of guilt, and become a person in her own right, with her needs coming first.
In sum, while 1994 marked the turn of her intention, the maturity of that decision really came forth in 1997 and remains at its strongest today. Oprah has won 34 Emmy awards, her show has topped the industry ratings for 14 consecutive seasons and she was the first person to be awarded the Lifetime Humanitarian Award. Her empire is worth over $1 billion today. The contract for her show will last until 2006. But I highly doubt she will ever retire.