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CHICAGO — The 25th and final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show starts airing Monday and the talk show host says she plans to focus on the people she thinks are responsible for the show's success: the viewers.
“This year you will see lots of surprises for other people, dreams coming true for other people, really honoring the essence of what has made this show work for the past 25 years and that's the viewer,” Winfrey said.
“The last season is a celebration of the past 24 years. For me, it is about holding a place of reverence and honor for the people who made this possible for me: that would be the viewers.”
Harpo Productions has released a schedule highlighting the first week of new shows, but Monday's season premiere remains “top secret” with only hints of celebrity guests and a surprise musical performance. The show airs at 4 p.m. daily on CBS, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, in Toledo.
During the remainder of that first week, Winfrey will host country music stars the Judds and revisit the city of Williamson, W.Va., where she filmed a town hall episode about AIDS in 1987. During a live Friday show, she will announce her first book club selection in nearly a year.
So what else can fans and longtime watchers expect over this season? A-list celebrities? More makeovers? An outdoor extravaganza similar to Winfrey's show that shut down Chicago's Michigan Avenue last season?
“I would anticipate that they're going to pull out all the stops,” said Bill Carroll, an expert on the daytime television market for Katz Television in New York. “If any production team has that ability and certainly the Oprah folks, the folks at Harpo, have proved that over the years.”
Winfrey's departure from a daily talk show on broadcast television is akin to host Johnny Carson's departure from The Tonight Show, Carroll said.
“People of a certain era remember Johnny Carson's last show,” Carroll said. “This generation is going to, in a bittersweet way, say goodbye to this chapter of Oprah's story.”
But this farewell isn't a final goodbye. Winfrey is set to launch her Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, on cable Jan. 1.
The end of The Oprah Winfrey Show will be featured on that network with Behind the Scenes: Oprah's 25th Season, a one-hour series giving viewers a look at the making of the last season of Winfrey's talk show.
Winfrey describes her show, which is syndicated to 145 countries, as having a cultural impact on her viewers around the world.
“I'm learning more about that and being more accepting of what that has been as I look over these 25 years and prepare to go into the last season — hearing stories about how the show has affected people's lives over the years,” Winfrey said.
Jennifer Todd, 43, of Dothan, Ala., says she has watched Winfrey for at least the last 20 years. Todd expects Winfrey's last season to be huge and filled with charity efforts.
On her 19th season premiere in 2004, Winfrey gave a car to the nearly 300 people in her studio audience. It was a $7 million giveaway during which she famously exclaimed, “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!”
“I think she's going to be full of surprises this year,” Todd said after stopping in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood to snap photographs of Harpo Studios. “She's such a giver. I think she's going to use this as a last chance to give even bigger than before.”
Janice Peck, author of The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era, foresees Winfrey filling the season with giveaways, flashbacks, and visits from past guests “who can come in and talk about how they've been affected by her.”
She has hosted high-powered celebrities as Michael Jackson, Julia Roberts, and John Travolta. Tom Cruise famously jumped on Winfrey's sofa to proclaim his love for wife Katie Holmes.