Thursday, July 30, 2009

When Did Oprah Jump the Shark?

For those of you not familiar with the term "jump the shark" it refers to when TV show has gone past its prime. It came from the episode of Happy Days when the Fonze jumped over a shark. It was definitely a sign that it was time for them to call it quits. There used to be a really great website that had a running dialogue on every show you could think of and why it jumped the shark and when but TV Guide has purchased it and now the website has jumped the shark.

I used to watch The Oprah Winfrey Show religiously as a kid. My mom taped her soap operas and Oprah every day and then sat down on the weekends and caught up on the past five days. I could never wait to watch it with her so I would rewind the tape every day when I got home from school so I could watch Oprah before she got home. I got in trouble a couple of times for messing up the tape but I never stopped doing it.

I think the Oprah show started in 1986 when I was 10 years old. Initially, I watched Oprah because my mom watched but it wasn't long before I was hooked too. I remember her talking about subjects that no one else talked about. It was the only place on TV where you could find real stories about real people. It seemed like all of the other talk shows were manipulating the stories to make them more "TV friendly" but they just came across as fake and hollow. You couldn't go a week on Oprah without laughing your head off or crying your eyes out. And she let the audience talk. She let them ask the guests questions and truly be a part of the show so even if part of the show was rehearsed, much of it couldn't be. She was truly a pioneer in her heyday. But she lost it and I wish that she would quit now before it gets any worse.

My Personal Jump the Shark Moments

1. She rarely does anything to focus on beauty tips for women of color. I remember that during one of her "answer the viewer's letters" shows someone asked her about her hair. Her hair stylist noted that most black women with thick, coarse hair, like Oprah's washed their hair on average once a week (and many go much longer). It was a comment that he made in passing before answering the viewer question. Before the hairstylist could complete his thought, Oprah jumped in and said "My hair gets washed every other day!!! I don't want you to think I have week old hair". Washing your hair every other day is horrible for your hair if you have hair like Oprah's. This is definitely something that she started doing as an adult, after she got famous and at her request because no hair stylist or person who has that type of hair would ever recommend it. I don't know what would be worse: Oprah washing her hair excessively to try to fit in with the mostly white crowd she is surrounded by or Oprah implying that there is something wrong or dirty about black women who don't wash their hair as frequently as she does. I looked at the TV and thought, she has truly forgotten where she came from and has become a completely different person.

2. When she started promoting other TV shows on her show. It started with many of the Discovery Channel Health doctors frequently showing up on her show but then it branched out to whatever was new on ABC or featured in Time Magazine. She was no longer original or relevant; she had truly sold out. She was just another TV drone reporting the same story that 7 other talk shows were talking about and getting paid handsomely for it.

3. When she stopped caring about her guests and her audience. You used to feel like you knew a lot of the Oprah guests personally. An entire show would be dedicated to one topic, if not one person, and there would be several follow up shows to keep you updated on that person's progress. We, the viewer, were personally invested in these people because we had gone through the struggles with them as their stories unfolded on her show. And someone in the audience would have a similar story or be inspired to change their lives because of the story.

Now she will cram multiple topics and guests into the same show and give very little time to each story. She hasn't let the audience talk in years. She doesn't cry, she doesn't react to what the people are saying, she doesn't even appear to be listening. She has her little blue card with questions and she just runs through them. She is so apathetic and cold that it is difficult to watch.

The worst was when the young girl was rescued from her kidnappers and Oprah had her and her family on the show the day after the rescue. It was sensationalism at its worst and a sign that Oprah had sunken to the depths of other empty talk shows vying for ratings. This was really obvious to me when I watched the 20th anniversary DVDs in 2006. It was so obvious how great the show used to be and how bad it had become over the years. If I were her and I watched those tapes, I would have been ashamed what the show is like now compared to how it used to be.

4. When she stopped having an opinion. I remember that she had Tiger Woods on several times because she was a fan of his. I remember every Will Smith movie getting an entire Oprah show dedicated to it. There were movies, music and people that I had never heard of that Oprah promoted because they appealed to her personally, not because they were the most popular thing of the moment. Now every time a TV show is successful or a movie has a crazy amount of buzz she will feature it on her show. It's a sad desperate attempt to grab ratings but why would anyone watch when you're promoting the same thing that 10 other media outlets are getting paid to promote at the same time.

5. When her target audience became 2% of the population. So many shows dedicated to stay at home moms finding themselves, or putting the spark back in your marriage and any number of topics that seem focused on a very tight demographic. I'm okay with that every once in a while but the upper class woman is not the average woman. The worst is that the makeovers on a budget shows that don't feature clothes from JcPenney or Old Navy or some other store that most of the population can afford to shop at. No, it's all of these high end stores where a sweater costs $150 and Oprah says "Oh wow, that's so cheap" and the cameraman zooms in on all of these audience members that appear to agree that its a great deal. It's like she's been rich for so long that she's just out of touch with what is normal. And she isn't married and doesn't have any kids so why do 70% of her shows seem to focus on people who do?

Oprah is well past her prime and should quit now before her show becomes so bad that its cancelled. Her shameless behavior during the past presidential election would have been a great opportunity for her to leave the TV show behind and move into another career. But of course this didn't happen and it doesn't appear to be on the horizon. It's a shame because we could use some good TV these days.

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