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Final season of ‘Oprah’ to focus on viewers

Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey will end her  run of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2011 after 25 seasons on the air.  (Associated Press)
Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey will end her run of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2011 after 25 seasons on the air. (Associated Press)

The 25th and final season of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” starts Monday and the talk-show host says she plans to focus on the people she thinks are responsible for her success: the viewers.

“This year you will see lots of surprises for other people, dreams coming true for other people, really honoring the essence of what has made this show work for the past 25 years, and that’s the viewer,” Winfrey says.

“The last season is a celebration of the past 24 years. For me, it is about holding a place of reverence and honor for the people who made this possible for me.”

Harpo Productions has released a schedule highlighting the first week of new shows, but Monday’s season premiere remains “top secret” with only hints of celebrity guests and a surprise musical performance.

During the remainder of the week, Winfrey will host country music stars The Judds and revisit the city of Williamson, W.Va., where she filmed a town hall episode about AIDS in 1987.

During a live show next Friday, she will announce her first book club selection in nearly a year.

So what else can fans and longtime watchers expect over this season? A-list celebrities? More makeovers? An outdoor extravaganza similar to Winfrey’s show that shut down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue last season?

“I would anticipate that they’re going to pull out all the stops,” says Bill Carroll, an expert on the daytime television market for Katz Television in New York. “If any production team has that ability and certainly the Oprah folks, the folks at Harpo, have proved that over the years.”

Winfrey’s departure from a daily talk show on broadcast television is akin to host Johnny Carson’s departure from “The Tonight Show,” Carroll adds.

“People of a certain era remember Johnny Carson’s last show,” he says. “This generation is going to, in a bittersweet way, say goodbye to this chapter of Oprah’s story.”

But it isn’t a final goodbye. Winfrey is set to launch her Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, on cable Jan. 1.

The end of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will be featured on that network with “Behind the Scenes: Oprah’s 25th Season,” a one-hour series giving viewers a look at the making of the last season of Winfrey’s talk show.

Winfrey describes her show, which is syndicated to 145 countries, as having a cultural impact on her viewers around the world.

“I’m learning more about that and being more accepting of what that has been as I look over these 25 years and prepare to go into the last season – hearing stories about how the show has affected people’s lives over the years,” she says.

Janice Peck, author of “The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era” (Paradigm, 2008), foresees Winfrey filling the season with giveaways, flashbacks and visits from past guests “who can come in and talk about how they’ve been affected by her.”

On her 19th season premiere in 2004, Winfrey gave a car to the nearly 300 people in her studio audience. During the $7 million giveaway she famously exclaimed, “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!”

She has hosted high-powered celebrities as Michael Jackson, Julia Roberts and John Travolta. Tom Cruise famously jumped on Winfrey’s sofa to proclaim his love for wife Katie Holmes.

Winfrey’s sofa has been the go-to seat for many caught up in controversy, too.

Last season, Rielle Hunter, the mistress of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, told Winfrey her story.

And an apologetic Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, told Winfrey what was behind an offer to sell access to her former husband, Prince Andrew.

“She’s going to hit the nostalgia button very strongly,” Peck predicts.

Kathleen Rooney, author of “Reading With Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America” (University of Arkansas Press, 2008), says for many Winfrey fans, come Monday, it won’t be the beginning of the end.

“It’s not goodbye. It’s, ‘See you over here in a minute,’ ” Rooney says.

“There’s a generation of people who don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without Oprah – and they’re not going to find out anytime soon.”

Associated Press reporter Kathleen Miller contributed to this story.