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Chicagoist's Top 11 for 2011: Oprah Winfrey's Farewell Season

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 27, 2011 8:30PM

25 years is a long time to stay atop the syndicated television game, but few people are able to make an immediate connection with viewers like Oprah Winfrey. Fewer still are able to bridge the startling contradictions of spirituality and rampant commercialism, e.g talking with Maya Angelou one day and showing off your set made from Godiva chocolate the next. Anyone else who tried this would come off looking like a train wreck.

Not Oprah. Whether she was introducing viewers to a long-lost sister, giving away her final set of "favorite things and the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle (and covering the taxes on the giveaways for audience members), disclosing to Piers Morgan that she ate 30 pounds of Art Smith's macaroni and cheese when Beloved tanked at the box office, and finding out there are things beyond her control like the weather, it mostly made for captivating television.

The line Winfrey walked between the two was no more distinctly drawn than when she had her "Oprah-vival" at the United Center, with scores of celebrities in Chicago to pay tribute to the Big O and a fawning audience that may or may not have left a bit disappointed they only received a copy of O: The Magazine and a card stunt.

But then Winfrey brought everything back full circle and, in her final show, interspersed her final sermon of "finding your calling" with clips over the past quarter century of how she discovered hers. (That final show also gave us the phrase, "the teeny little sperm of Vernon Winfrey.")

It was a symbolic cutting of the umbilical cord, with Winfrey imploring her cult of personality to fly as she moved on to the challenge of running her own network. A challenge, thus far, that has proved daunting.

But there's still a tenant at Harpo Studios and Mayor Daley bestowed Oprah with her own street designation before she headed west. She still has her condo and that Streeterville co-op that you can rent for the bargain price of $15,000 a month.

And her new show premieres New Year's Day, which will be the first true test to see if any of her army of housewives follow her to cable.

If anyone can make the transition, it's Oprah.