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Television talk shows began airing in the 1950s. One of the most influential and successful talk shows is the Oprah Winfrey Show that aired between the years 1986 and 2011 (Timberg & Erler, 2002). It is rated as the most influential show in the history of American television because of its wide viewership and great impact on society.
The show was famous because of its influence on different cultural perspectives and values. Many of the topics discussed were related to cultural and social issues. Winfrey used the show to influence change in society. It provided viewers with positive insights that were aimed at improving their lives.
On the other hand, the show played a pivotal role in changing society’s perception of women’s potential. Winfrey never used it to enrich herself by benefiting from the products she endorsed. For example, the show did not benefit financially from endorsing books for its book club segment.
History of talk shows
Television talk shows began in the 1950s when Joe Franklin hosted the first show in 1951 (Timberg & Erler, 2002). Television talk shows initially involved celebrity interviews, comedy, and music. They were platforms for entertainment only. Gradually, they evolved and began to cover topics like family, relationships, and health. The Oprah Show had its origin in a talk show known as “A.M Chicago” (Timberg & Erler, 2002).
After taking over as the host, Winfrey catapulted it to the top. It became the most popular show in Chicago. The show earned her several nominations for prestigious awards. The success of the show motivated its producers to remake it into the Oprah Winfrey Show (Timberg & Erler, 2002). Winfrey tried to book a celebrity for the first episode of the show. However, no celebrity accepted to appear in the show.
After twelve episodes, she considered quitting. However, she decided to continue hosting the show and fulfill her dream to bring change to people’s lives. The show aimed to highlight issues that affected people, and show how they could change them to improve their lives and make the world a better place. Reality shows have real and fictional aspects. They cover real-life issues that affect people in their everyday lives (Timberg & Erler, 2002).
However, other aspects are staged to give them certain auras. Many guests and people in the audience feign happiness by constantly smiling and laughing. One of the requirements for making a talk show lively is to have an excited and joyful audience. The audience expresses joy through smiling, clapping, and applauding guests. This is intended to express the liveliness and excitement of the talk show.
The theme of the Oprah Show
When the show started, Winfrey discussed contemporary issues that affected people like marriage, dating, divorce, infidelity, relationships, and family (Abt, & Mustazza, 1999). She offered advice to men and women about what to do if, for example, one partner became unfaithful. The show explored these themes until the 1990s when it changed its style. Winfrey introduced other themes that catapulted the show’s popularity.
She dealt with the same themes but in a different and more open way. She incorporated a human dimension that involved giving people advice about how to improve the quality of their lives (Abt, & Mustazza, 1999). She introduced inspirational celebrity interviews, philanthropic ventures, and a book club that made the show different from other shows. During the last years of the show, Winfrey made spirituality one of the core themes.
This led to the establishment of programs that supported both Christian and non-Christian groups. When the show started, it was largely dominated by Christian precepts and teachings. However, she later incorporated other religious groups’ precepts (Abt, & Mustazza, 1999). She believed that her role was to teach people how to live better lives regardless of their religious backgrounds.
How the show created meaning
Talk shows have a great influence on popular culture because they address contemporary issues that affect people. For example, they handle relationships, employment, family, and issues related to finance management. Talk shows have aspects of reality and fiction. Some aspects of these shows seem real, while others seem staged. They do this as a way of passing certain messages to people to influence them in certain ways.
Talk shows change their themes depending on the issues that affect people. For example, in olden days, talk shows discussed issues such as family, relationships, and work. However, issues discussed today have changed significantly. With the harsh economic times, talk shows discuss issues such as employment, careers, and finance. The shows were mostly platforms for discussing general issues that affected society.
Today shows deal with more complex and pressing issues. The modern society has changed significantly as the rate of globalization soars. Also, with the advent of technology, the themes had to change.
The Oprah Show’s main aim was to influence the lives of people positively. She had segments that were aimed at inspiring viewers to change their lives (Abt & Mustazza, 1999). Winfrey intended to reveal the potential that individual possessed and how they could use it positively to attain their goals. She interviewed celebrities that had overcome great odds to attain success.
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Musicians, business leaders, authors, and athletes narrated their stories to the audience and viewers to show that every person has an opportunity to become great in society (Mack, 2008). The show desisted from discussing topics that would influence society negatively.
Some talk shows have a negative influence on society, especially on young people. Some talk shows often discuss topics such as teenagers having sex at very young ages. These shows do not teach young people that such practices are dangerous because they compromise their well-being.
In contrast, they depict such practices as appropriate and fit for teenagers who want to appear trendy. These shows increase promiscuity among teenagers. The Oprah Show had a different approach to such issues. She discussed the issues with young people and showed them how they could affect their lives. She would then invite a psychologist or sexologist to discuss the issue in detail and teach young people about responsible sexual behaviors (Mack, 2008).
The Oprah Show played a critical role in changing people’s perception of women and African Americans (Young, 2001). Common stereotypes about women that the show challenged included the perception that women are weak, women are inferior to men, women cannot do what men do, and women cannot be as successful as men. Winfrey changed people’s perception of women’s potential and role in society (Mack, 2008).
Her show was more successful than shows hosted by men. She overcame cultural resistance and prejudice to achieve success. After the success of her show, other women hosts emerged and followed her example. She taught people that women are as strong and able as men are. The show also influenced people into changing their perception regarding the status and potential of African Americans (Young, 2001).
Winfrey challenged the perception that African Americans are inferior to people from other races. At the time of establishing the show, racism was rampant and divided people into different groups based on race. However, she used her show to change the perception that some races are superior or inferior to others.
The Oprah Show contributed significantly towards the education of society. However, this happened after she incorporated themes such as health and family. At its inception, the show focused on trivial matters like the secret lives of celebrities (Mack, 2008). The show offered a platform for celebrities to share their most intimate secrets regarding their marriages and relationships.
This created a perception that celebrity life was flashy and to be yearned for. Winfrey did not focus on aspects that could motivate and inspire viewers to improve their lives. However, she changed her focus when the show gained fame. She started discussing serious issues such as health, career, and lifestyle (Mack, 2008). The show tackled issues that affected people in society.
At the end of the show, a segment dedicated to spiritual matters was aired. It highlighted the achievements of people who had achieved extraordinary goals through hard work and persistence (Young, 2001). They would share their stories with the audience and narrate how they overcame diversity even though they did not come from privileged backgrounds. This changed the perception that only people from privileged families could achieve greatly.
Other segments that influenced the lives of people positively included talks by Dr. Phil and Suze Orman. Dr. Phil offered advice on marriage, family, and relationships, while Orman gave financial advice (Young, 2001). The Oprah Winfrey Show revolutionalized television talk shows by giving them meaning.
Abt, L. & Mustazza, L. (1999). Coming after oprah: Cultural Fallout in the Age of TV Talk Show. Journal of American Studies, 33(3), 519-520.
Mack, D. (2008). The Oprah Phenomenon. Journal of Social History, 42(2), 533-535.
Timberg, B. & Erler, B. (2002). Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Young, J. (2001). Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, and Postmodern Audiences. African American Review, 35(2), 181-204.