During its record-setting 25-year run from 1986 to 2011, The Oprah Winfrey Show became a pillar of pop culture. Equal parts TED Talk, group therapy session and self-help sermon, Oprah educated and inspired a generation. Last week, 34 years after the award-winning show's debut, it returned as a curated collection of podcasts hand-picked by the media icon herself. I gave the first batch of 10 episodes a listen and now rather regret having never watched the show during its heyday.
The Oprah Winfrey Show: The Podcast is what they're calling the project, and it's available for free exclusively on Apple Podcasts. Oprah hosted 4,561 episodes in total, and they'll almost all eventually be given the podcast treatment. The first 10 episodes released represent a broad cross section of topics ranging from healing childhood traumas and managing the emotional impact of divorce to giving financial and medical advice -- even highlighting self-defense strategies. The podcasts also feature appearances by her most popular guests like Suze Orman, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz.
The translation from daytime talk show to streaming podcast is nearly seamless. Granted, there are instances -- such as during groin-strike demonstrations in 1991's "How to Protect Yourself Against an Attacker" -- where the audio-only format mutes the overall experience, but it has little impact on Oprah's interviews and monologues.
I was struck by the timelessness of the show. The advice Oprah was dishing out in 1989 is just as valid today. Now, whether that's a credit to her uncanny insight and talents or an indictment of society's unwillingness to progress is not for me to say.
For example, the financial advice that Suze Orman gave to people in 2008's "Can You Afford That?" may have been presented in an oddly glib pseudo-game show format wherein people gave her a 30-second rundown of their financial situation and she'd tell them whether they could, well, afford to do something like buy a house or become a stay-at-home parent. But her underlying advice, recorded during the depths of the Great Recession, is still valuable today: Try to start saving early if at all possible, be responsible with your credit cards and if you're actually waffling over whether to buy a snowboard or make your student loan payment this month, you're doing it wrong.
Of course there were also episodes offering more, ahem, esoteric advice -- when Oprah hosted Dr. Phil McGraw in 2002 to help promote his latest life strategy guide, Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out, wherein readers were tasked with completing a pair of questionnaires to measure their "authentic self" and "congruency." Those scores help to determine, according to Publisher's Weekly, "which external and internal forces [the reader] will, or won't, allow to control their futures."
Perhaps the most impactful episode of this curation didn't actually dispense much advice at all. In 2011, "The Oprah Show on Race in America -- A 25 Year Look Back" made an unflinching examination of America's systemic racism while highlighting some of the best clips from the hundreds of episodes Oprah has dedicated to the topic. She discussed how she came to her decision to no longer allow white supremacists on her show to espouse their beliefs, noting, "Sometimes the conversation will not help." The episode takes a look at the infamous Rodney King beating and the fallout from the subsequent trial and riots. It also features an interesting, if mildly contentious, conversation with Jay-Z about "taking the power out of the n-word."
This isn't the first time that Oprah's turned one of her shows into a podcast. In 2017, she debuted SuperSoul Conversations, which scraped audio from her existing SuperSoul Sunday television program. Nor is she the only talk show host to run with the idea. In 2018, Johnny Carson's entertainment company released a selection of memorable interviews from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in an attempt to remonetize the IP.
Oprah will have more competition than a classic late night talk show, of course. Fifteen years after the first podcasts appeared in iTunes, the streaming format has gone mainstream. According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, there are more than 800,000 active podcasts currently available on the internet, offering 54 million individual episodes to the 62 million Americans that tune into them each week. Shows like Serial have become cultural touchstones in their own right while a number of popular podcasts -- from Comedy Bang Bang and 2 Dope Queens to Crimetown and Dirty John -- have optioned into television shows and specials.
The initial 10 episodes of The Oprah Show are already available and more -- oh, so many more -- are scheduled to arrive starting later this month.