Chicago Prepares for Life without Oprah Winfrey

Manila Bulletin, May 13, 2011 | Go to article overview

Chicago Prepares for Life without Oprah Winfrey


CHICAGO (AP) - Before Oprah Winfrey looks west to Los Angeles and her new cable station the talk show queen finds herself saying goodbye to her beloved Chicago.

"It feels like Scarlett leaving Tara," Winfrey told The Associated Press in December before the Oprah Winfrey Network's launch.

"When I first flew into Chicago on Labor Day 1983 to audition for 'A.M. Chicago,' I remember thinking when I left the city that if I don't get the job I'm gonna find a way to get back because I just love the city," she said.

There will be two difficult moments when "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ends, she said, saying goodbye to her viewers and saying goodbye to Chicago.

"Because it couldn't have happened without Chicago," she said. "It couldn't have happened without Chicago."

Winfrey came to Chicago in 1984 to WLS-TV's morning talk show, "A.M. Chicago." A month later the show was No. 1 in the market. A year later it was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

During those early days Winfrey had a small corner office with two rows of desks where her producers sat, remembers Joel Daly, a retired longtime news anchor for the ABC affiliate.

"You'd go down after her show and she'd be walking around in a bathrobe and slippers," Daly said.

Winfrey outgrew those quarters, getting more studio space until she opened Harpo Studios on Chicago's West Loop neighborhood in 1990.

"We moved here 10 years ago to a section of Randolph Street that was pretty desolate, but it always felt safer because we knew Harpo was down the street," said Ina Pinkney, who owns the breakfast and lunch restaurant Ina's.

Winfrey is often given credit for transforming the once-gritty industrial enclave to a neighborhood filled with families pushing strollers and walking their dogs.

"When I told people I was down the street from Oprah that was enough when you invoke her name you invoke a magic," Pinkney said. "She took a stand and she made this neighborhood what it is."

Art Smith was once Winfrey's personal chef, a job he earned after cooking lunches for Winfrey at Harpo. He now is executive chef and co-owns Chicago's upscale Southern restaurant Table fifty-two.

Winfrey brought celebrities, politicians and other famous and interesting people to Chicago, Smith said. He remembers becoming star-struck when Winfrey told him former South African President Nelson Mandela was visiting.

"You can't go any place in the world that doesn't know who Oprah Winfrey is or Chicago," Smith said. "She's been such an important part of the fabric of the city."

Winfrey was visible in Chicago, shutting down Michigan Avenue in September 2009 to film her season premiere with the Black Eyed Peas.

"Isn't this the most fabulous city in the world?" Winfrey yelled to more than 20,000 fans who crowded Chicago's Magnificent Mile.

Winfrey walked outside a Gap store with U2's Bono and brought more than 170 American Olympians to the city's Millennium Park. She lobbied for Chicago in the city's unsuccessful bid to host the Olympics.

"Only Oprah can close down Michigan Avenue and make it not feel like a local event," said Melody Spann-Cooper, president of WVON and WRLL radio stations in Chicago. …

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