Psychotherapists everywhere are worried that America — indeed, much of the English-speaking viewing audience — may not be able to cope in a post-Oprah world when she leaves her famous daily television show this week after a quarter century of nurturing.
Yes, TV’s spiritual healer promises to appear periodically on her own channel this fall, but it just won’t be the same every afternoon. The nation will have nowhere to turn each day when in need of a big hug. How will viewers be constantly inspired by people who have turned their life around despite severe drug addiction, bulimia, abusive parents, a cheating spouse, a murder conviction, and a tendency to snack between meals?
Also troubling is the recent news that Katie Couric, Regis Philbin, Mary Hart and Jim Lehrer are about to exit their daily perches on television, leaving the country bereft of four other friendly faces on TV at an unusually dark time. Many viewers have not yet recovered from Larry King leaving his nightly CNN show after 25 years. Even Barbara Walters is cutting back at 80. What next, wonder distraught viewers — the resignation of Anderson Cooper? That would be the final straw.
Oprah’s decision to abdicate her afternoon throne will severely test the country’s ability to get through personal and national crises on its own. Arnold Praxis, one of Oprah’s in-house advisers, says that America has endured many blows in the past — the Depression, World War II, 9/11, a recent end-of-the-world scare — and will somehow struggle with the trauma of Winfrey’s departure from afternoon TV after 4,561 shows, 48 million weekly viewers in 150 countries, and $2.7 billion in the bank.
“Oprah will still be there when we need her,” Praxis says consolingly. “In case of a major national crisis, President Obama has assured us that he will call upon her to administer to American viewers in dire times and to help bind up the nation’s emotional wounds.” Praxis pooh-poohs rumors that Winfrey has left her daily show to accept a soon-to-be-created Cabinet post in the Obama administration as Secretary of Empowerment & Life-Affirming Experiences.
He acknowledges that the additional blow of Couric leaving “The CBS Evening News,” Philbin’s departure from “Regis and Kelly” and Mary Hart’s retirement from “Entertainment Tonight” has only exacerbated Winfrey’s stunning decision to give up her daily feel-good sessions to form a new network. Some theologians see it as a grab for even more power and a threat to organized religion as we know it.
Exclaims a theology teacher: “There has never been anybody in the church with her influence since Billy Graham — or indeed God, who had to be impressed when Oprah was named the third most powerful woman on the planet. Not even the Almighty has His own magazine, network book club and a Chicago street named for Him.”
Shrinks, who have despaired over the years as former patients turned in large numbers to Oprah’s show, are quietly relieved that she will be leaving her daily stint as the nation’s full-time therapist (and part-time minister). “She’s done a darn fine job, even without a license to practice,” concedes psychiatrist Gordon Prattle, “but we professionals finally feel ready to take over from her. Oprah has taught us a lot and made us believe in ourselves again. Like Oprah says, everybody’s story matters, which is easy to forget when you’re dealing with some real fruitcakes.”
Of overriding concern is the question of who the nation’s women can turn to now when they need someone on TV to look out for them and help them find their own passion. Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura and Judge Judy are all superb at dishing out stern, no-nonsense, straight-from-the-shoulder tough-love advice to America’s troubled souls, yet none of them has the ability to shed a tear on cue, as Oprah has done so feelingly for so long.
Phil, Laura and Judy simply have not been willing to share their fears and secrets on national TV, which has made Oprah the nation’s Big Sister (quite big at times). Oprah’s daily exit comes at an unusually wrenching time for fanciers of human misery, what with the two remaining network soap operas also shutting down for good.
Only Our Lady of Perpetual Empathy has the ability to get women nodding in unison by the millions and vowing to live the life they want and be the best person they can be, to always look on the bright side (as the old Monty Python song counsels), lose those 150 extra pounds, ditch that unresponsive husband, bond with that sullen teenager; to further resolve, by golly, to charm those unfriendly neighbors, angry in-laws and jealous siblings; and yes, to make those dreams come true, find the right caring man for you and eat fewer saturated fats.