- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) | Holding back tears, Oprah Winfrey told her studio audience Friday that she would end her show in 2011 after a quarter-century on the air, saying prayer and careful thought led her to her decision.

Miss Winfrey told the audience that she loved “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” that it had been her life and that she knew when it was time to say goodbye. “Twenty-five years feels right in my bones and feels right in my spirit,” she said.

Miss Winfrey talked about being nervous when the program began in 1986 and thanked audiences who had invited her into their homes and lives over the past two decades.

“I certainly never could have imagined the yellow brick road of blessings that have led me to this moment,” she said.

The powerhouse show became the foundation for her multibillion-dollar media empire, but in the past year, has seen its ratings slip 7 percent. Miss Winfrey, 55, is widely expected to start up a new talk show on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a much-delayed 50-50 joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc. that is projected to debut in January 2011. OWN is to replace the Discovery Health Channel and will debut in some 80 million homes.

Miss Winfrey offered no specifics about her plans for the future, except to say that she intended to produce the best possible shows during her last 18 months on the air.

“Over this holiday break, my team and I will be brainstorming new ways that we can entertain you and inform you and uplift you when we return here in January,” she said. “And then, season 25 — we are going to knock your socks off.”

CBS Television Distribution, which distributes the show to more than 200 U.S. markets, held out hope it could continue doing business with Miss Winfrey, perhaps producing a new show out of its studios in Los Angeles.

“We know that anything she turns her hand to will be a great success,” the CBS Corp. unit said. “We look forward to working with her for the next several years, and hopefully afterwards as well.”

Many fans heading into Harpo Studios on Friday morning seemed to support Miss Winfrey’s decision.

“It’s time to elevate to something new,” said Sandra Donaldson, 59, of Indianapolis. “Whatever she does is going to be a blessing. It’s going to be rewarding and eye-opening. Her name alone opens doors.”

Once a local Chicago morning program, the production evolved into television’s top-rated talk show for more than two decades, airing in 145 countries worldwide and watched by an estimated 42 million viewers a week in the U.S. alone.

Audience members described the atmosphere inside the studio Friday as tense and emotional, with some reaching for tissues as Miss Winfrey announced her decision. But amid the sadness, there also was understanding among the crowd, Miss Donaldson said afterward.

“When I looked around, there was a peace there, because I like to think everybody was happy for her decision to move on,” she said.

Fans expressed hope that Miss Winfrey would soon announce another project.

“Oprah, she impacts everybody, her life, the way she gives,” said Shawana Fletcher, 29, of Chicago. “I hope she’s not totally done. That’s what we’re praying.”

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