What she has meant to me.

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life47 Comments


Today is finally here. The last official broadcast of the Oprah show. When it was announced late last summer, it seemed like a day that was eons away in the distant future in some alternate universe. In short: this day was a hard one to really believe was a-comin'.

Some people love Oprah. Some people couldn't give a rat's tushka about her.

I belong squarely in the Love Her category and I'm going to try my best to tell you why.

I turned 20 in 1986, the same year that Oprah's show went on the air nationally. At 20, I was officially an adult (or so I liked to believe.) As such, I did a very non-adult thing and I moved back into my parent's new home in Texas following a family relocation from Seattle in order to finish my college education. For the first time in my life I had a television in my roomโ€”with cable! My favorite show was thirtysomething and I watched the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson every single night before going to bed.

In 1986 and for many years to come, talk shows were sensational, sometimes a wee bit trashy and usually good for an hour of entertainment when I needed a break from studying for an upper level communications final. I also didn't know a lot of people in Texas, and I'm not ashamed to say Oprah kept me company during times I wished I had someone to hang out with.

I'd like to say that I remember each and every Oprah show I ever saw, but I don't. I remember thinking she was a breath of fresh air in the milk toast television landscape. I loved that she was different. At the time, I felt like a different person myself, one that was trying so hard to figure out who I was and who I wasn't and where I fit into this world at large.

I do recall, however, one Oprah show, and for the life of me, I can't find a link to it, but it was a show on racism, where they had a group of African American men and caucasian men in a room for a really frank and sometimes shocking discussion on race in America. I remember very clearly it being one of the first times (and Lord, how it wouldn't be the last) that I was absolutely glued to the discussion, with tears streaming down my cheeks as I felt the raw emotion and the pain in that room behind my television screen.

Oprah made me think about things I hadn't thought about before. She made me empathize on a regular basis. She made me cry during non-prime time television.

In 1998, after two years of post-baby weight gain that had gotten completely out of hand, I bought her book "Make the Connection" and did exactly what she and Bob Greene told me to do. There is a list of 10 things to live by in that book, and live by them to the letter I did. In a year, I lost 40 pounds and returned to my fighting weight. Of course, I also decided to pick up smoking again, and kissed the exercise component goodbye.  But during that glorious year, I worshipped at the fitness altar of Oprah daily, believing, truly believing that if I did what she did, everything was going to be okay.

When Oprah failed at her own fitness goals, I shared in that too. As I started to smoke again, I remember feeling like a failure as well. And when I quit a second time, and the weight came back on, I had her right there with me, realizing that some things in life are hard for just about everybody.

When Oprah made the decision to use her show as a platform for good, I cheered. She rose above the sea of "schlalk" shows and elevated the medium to a whole different level. Sure, she had her fair share of makeover shows and related fluff, but by and large, when I watched her show I learned something new, or I at least thought about it in a different way.

Oprah even got me into trouble at work from time to time. I remember once in 1998, Madonna was slated to be on as a guest. It was right around the time of her Ray of Light album, which I adored, and I really wanted to get home early to watch the show.

I was working as a designer for the Science Museum of Minnesota at the time, and my day ended at 4 p.m., right when Oprah's show comes on the air. Because I had no concept of how to use a VCR, I said to my boss at about 3:40, "Can I head out a little early? Madonna's going to be on Oprah and I really want to see it," to which he replied, in a very gruff and pissed off voice, "So now we have to compete with Oprah?"

Needless to stay I didn't get home in time to see the whole thing, and everyone knows the first 15 minutes are critical and set the tone for every show.

In the last year, I've watched more Oprah than I probably have in all the past year's combined. Mostly because I don't work as many hours as I used to, and also because I've been keenly aware that this afternoon television respite that has on occasion elevated me to the highest levels of human compassion is soon to be filed under the No More category.

People can say what they want about Oprah. That she's arrogant, that she's out of touch, that she's just a bit too big for her britches, but I will tell you this: anyone who tries to put something positive out into the world is to be admired in my book.

Anyone who has made a person think differently about even the smallest of things has made a tremendous impact in the world.

She has made me think differently and for that I am grateful and I will miss her daily show.

I still think she should have focused a bit more on scrapbooking, but what the heck. At least Lisa Bearnson got on there once.

God speed, Oprah Winfrey.

With much gratitude and love,


Cathy ZielskeWhat she has meant to me.

47 Comments on “What she has meant to me.”

  1. #1
    Lee Currie

    I too am a tremendous fan, for many of the same reasons. Gotta love anyone willing to put something positive out in the world, no matter how big or small, and defend it.

  2. #3

    I will also miss seeing her show everyday. Happy for her in moving on to other things, with more time for herself, but sad for me!

  3. #4

    kinda funny how her show so clearly aligned to certain periods of our lives… kinda like smelling a certain perfume and being transported right back to a time and place in our lives. My mom raised my siblings and me through the Phil Donahue years and she often commented on how she recalls things from her life based on the timeline/episodes of his programming!

    Oprah is truly one of a kind and will leave a void not just in daily television, but in the lives of people like you and me who found her compassion, candor and curiousity to be a refreshing inspiration in the world!

  4. #6

    I love Oprah. I am happy to see this today….and I have the last few shows taped and have purposefully not watched them ..saving for weekend when my sob fest can take place heh. I always say I wish I could be Oprah for a day and be able to help as many people as she does for just a day.. what an awesome lady she is.

  5. #8

    Could not have said it better. I am really, really going to miss her show. I’m still in denial about it now, but come next fall there will be a big gap in my life.

  6. #10

    Thank You Cathy! I’ve been pondering what the end of her shows will mean to me and wanted to write something about it–in my journal if no where else! You said it so well I might just print yours and put it in my journal instead. I love your writing!

  7. #12

    I have never followed her long enough to be a fan but that was some awesome insight/analysis of your admiration… LIke the post ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. #15
    Mary Jo

    I definitely went through a long period where I watched every day! Especially back before I had kids and when my first was born and I was on the couch holding a sleeping or nursing baby a lot ๐Ÿ™‚

    Then life kind of got away with all the tiny kid stuff and the last few years I’ve missed a lot, catching a really good episode here and there.
    I’m always a little sad at the end of an era.

    And I agree with what you said here
    “People can say what they want about Oprah. That she’s arrogant, that she’s out of touch, that she’s just a bit too big for her britches, but I will tell you this: anyone who tries to put something positive out into the world is to be admired in my book.”
    I feel the same way about Bono from U2! I love him, but there are a lot who don’t for the very reasons you mentioned about Oprah. But he really has done a lot of good these past few years ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. #17

    I have only been on the Oprah train for the past 4-5 years but have LOVED every minute of it. I DON”T always agree with Oprah but she puts it out there for you–to do with it what you want and really think about the issue.
    And because of her—I have found the LOVE OF READING!—so grateful for that!

    I have been watching Behind The Scenes on her OWN network. Have really gotten to ‘know’ her as a person a lot better from that show. Check it out–I think you would enjoy it too.

  10. #18

    I used to watch a lot of Oprah and I used to really like her, but then something changed. As an English teacher I, of course, looked into her choices for her book club, but was greatly disappointed with almost every selection she made (I read them, but I sure didn’t like most of them). Then she put the cattle farmers in a bad light (sorry, farmer’s daughter here). And then I saw so many people being swayed after that by what she said. She held such a grasp over people’s ability to think, discern and make choices. If she said it was “so” then millions said it was “so” (even if it wasn’t good or logical). And while I used to get a kick out of her give away shows, in the past couple of years I found them troubling (maybe it is my age, the current state of the economy…or a combination of both). I can appreciate your view of her show and how you regularly turned to (I did too, for a while) but honestly, I think it is time for her to go (sorry!) because I am just so uncomfortable with the sway she holds over the public and one person can influence so many, so easily, that just makes me uncomfortable.

    HOWEVER, I was there with you with the show Thirtysomething! That age and lifestyle was a world away (I was in my twenties, had no kids and no house) but they sure made it seem intriguing!

  11. #21
    c@rol w

    I’m a “take her or leave her” person. I only tune in when there’s something that interests me. I turned her show on when Lisa Bearnson was featured (and I saw Becky, too!) Can’t say I honestly remember any of her shows that had an impact and stuck with me.

  12. #22
    Elizabeth J.

    I’m in the rat’s tushka category. It’s not just Oprah, I don’t like any of the talk shows.

  13. #23

    I just put thirtysomething into my Netflix, and I watched the pilot episode the other night. You know what? It still holds up after all this time!

  14. #24

    The most moving part of the show yesterday was the part where men to whom she gave scholarships to attend Morehouse College gave testimonies as to what they have done with their lives, then walked into the theater carrying candles to fill the stage. Talk about a concrete representation of her legacy.

  15. #25

    I will miss the daily show as well, but am so proud of her for breaking out of what must by now be her comfort zone and moving forward in her path. I’m glad we have the magazine and OWN to fill the void!

  16. #26

    I love Oprah because she is a self-made person and has accomplished so much in her life time. I grew up in an era when it was okay to discriminate against women and blacks so I am in awe that a woman and a black person could do so much. I will miss her especially since her show would mark the end of my day when I gave myself permission to sit down and relax.

  17. #27

    This was a great read Cathy, she would love this. I too am a big Oprah fan and am sad that her show is over. My dream a long time ago was to watch one of her shows and meet her. She is a great lady and she brought a lot of happiness to others. I can’t imagine anyone taking that place now at 4:00 everyday.

    I am also a big fan of the show “thirtysomething” and got the set on dvd for my 40th birthday and watched them all and fell in love with them all over again. It’s on my list to watch it every year now for my bday.

    Sending all of you big hugs and tears and tissues at 4:00 today while we watch the last show. I actually went out and bought a tape just for this and plan on keeping it with my collection of other favorite last shows I have.

  18. #29
    tara pakosta

    I LOVE Oprah and am going to miss her show very much! I always dvr’ed it and watched every night. I don’t know WHAT good thing I will watch now as most shows are trashy! (my other addiction shows are the HOUSEWIVES of OC/NY)…
    I love O and all the good she has done in this world!
    Plus, how can I live in the burbs of Chicago and not worship her!!!
    I agree with every word you said!

  19. #30
    Becky H

    I have watched her off and on for years, but I am Stuck on Bechind The Scenes and I will really miss that. She is an amazing lady, and I don’t think I could have worked the hours she has worked all these years and not want to move on to something different. I love the OWN Network.

  20. #31

    I love her. I don’t watch every day, but I do record it on the DVR and watch it if it looks interesting that day. One thing I particularly love about her is her gratitude. Some people may find her arrogant, I see the opposite. She was showing her home on Nate Berkus’ show recently and I was struck by just how much she seem to truly appreciate it and realize how blessed she really is. I love that about her.

  21. #35

    Here here, she’s made a difference, that woman, more than a lot of other people, so regardless of what anyone thinks of her, she’s added good to the world and that’s good!

  22. #36

    I totally agree with you Cathy, mostly she tries to right wrongs, open people’s minds and make people have better lives. I love her final comment about it doesn’t matter what kind of a mother you had, or a father that did you wrong, you are in complete control of your life!! I had a tear watching her say goodbye. Hopefully they may still run re-runs and we can get to watch some of those shows over the past 25 years.

  23. #37

    I agree with Chris. I used to watch a lot of Oprah and then I think SHE changed dramatically. I felt like most of her shows were suddenly all about race. Then she talked about relationships, but didn’t seem to really want what made everyone happy. We heard more about Gail than we did about Stillman. Why? Then she made a switch about her religious views and turned God into something incomprehensible. Then she got so into politics that I couldn’t stand to watch her anymore. Whatever Oprah did the world said was the right thing to do. Not so. I don’t understand what made her change her core values, but SHE did.

    Cathy I do admire YOU. You are human and you admit that you are. Your core values are always there. You adore your family and your relationships.

    Thanks for your thoughts about Oprah and for giving us a chance to comment also.

    **Another one for the rat’s tushka category.

  24. #38
    Suzie Perrie

    I have a hard time with Oprah. I want to admire her for the good things she has done, and how she puts herself out there flaws and all. The problem for me is that a lot of it just seems to ring false.

  25. #41
    Pilbara Pink

    Did you know that if you download the app for O magazine on your iPad you can currently download back issues for free? Last night I was able to get all the back issues for this year for nothing, which completed my libary – how great is that ๐Ÿ™‚ I love to have everything neat and complete!

  26. #42
    Treadmill Traci

    I absolutely LOVE Oprah! I will miss her so much, she always gave me something to look forward to. I also cried with her when she said good bye. She will forever be missed!

  27. #43
    Sharon F. in CA

    Here here! And Hallelujah Sister!! I could not have said it better…I think I quote her all the time and am thankful that she introduced us to Dr. Phil, Nate Berkus, Martha Beck, Gary Sukav, Eckhart Tolle, Rachel Ray, and my beloved Dr. Oz as well as the many chefs, organizational experts and the author of Take Time for Yourself. I have reread that book over and over. It was completely wonderful to watch someone give of themselves and surprise a family with a car or home makeover – it was heartwarming and felt genuine. I am 5 years older than you are and too, remember when Oprah started and how it evolved. “I know this for sure” I have never forgotten her saying about gratitude, that when you have had a day that did not go as well as you had liked, add that you are grateful the day has concluded and a new one will begin. She shared her triumphs and her failures and made it ok to have them. She was a big sister that I am so grateful for over these 25 years.

  28. #46
    Andi Sexton

    I am not a TV person….. But XM radio???? LOVE her channel!!!! I listen to the radio at home when I am cooking or doing housework, in the car.. and have arrived at all sorts of destinations with tears streaming down my face.. and a mess!
    Oprah is an amazing woman. I am trying to listen to the little voices in response to some big life changing questions.. and to trust them! I give her credit for giving me the cajones to finally do something about my own life – to take the steps to Thrive and not just survive….. She rocks!!!!!

  29. #47

    I was a huge fan of Oprah for a while, until I had children of my own. The only times she worked my last nerve was when she got preachy about parenting. Parenting is one of the hardest things on the planet. Her judgments on parenting left me sour, and, alas, I watched the show less in the last 14 years than I had during high school and college.

    The one show I truly appreciated was when she featured the cast of Crash. She point blank challenged the African American actors as to why they would ever use the “N” word. She handed it to them, even with Luda sitting there shaking his head, and I applauded. In fact, I think I stood up and clapped in my own bedroom.

    And, I must say, when she featured the cast of Glee… come on…that was some good TV.

    I love that she introduced us to Dr. Phil. He makes me laugh, and he tells it like it is. He, too, leaves some people with sour tastes in their mouths. But at least people get their brain to thinking.

    Dissenting opinions give us opportunities to think about why we believe what we believe. She succeeded in that mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *