The XX Factor

Why Oprah Is Hanging Up the Mic

Oprah Winfrey is going to announce today that she will be leaving her eponymous talk show in 2011. The New York Times believes Winfrey is resigning from network TV in order to focus on the cable network she’s working on, called OWN, which will feature shows from all of her favorite cronies, like Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, and Dr. Phil. While this might be the case, I think another reason Oprah is hanging up the mic is because she has destroyed the core of what made her so popular in the first place: She’s no longer relatable.

Last year I profiled a blogger for the Times who was living her life based on all Oprah’s advice for a year. The blogger, Robyn Okrant, has a forthcoming book based on her experience , and one of the major points she makes is that Oprah is now more famous than almost anyone she interviews. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that Oprah gathered her fan base because of the fact that she was just like them. What pop-culturally conscious woman who was alive in the mid-’80s does not remember when Oprah dropped 67 pounds on the crash diet Optifast and wheeled out a giant tub of fat on her show to signify that weight loss? And who doesn’t remember when she gained it all back? The average Jane could easily commisserate with this kind of vulnerability and outward struggle. Of course, Oprah still struggles with her weight, but she does it with the help of a vegan chef, a physical trainer, and a team of assistants.

Many women without personal chefs still watch Lady O, but her ratings have been declining substantially. During the July 2009 rerun season, Oprah had her lowest ratings since the show debuted in 1985 . Oprah’s minions still have enough of the common touch to appeal to the audience that she seeks to move over to her cable network. Or at least that’s what she’s hoping.

Photograph of Oprah Winfrey by C.J. LaFrance/Getty Images.