Oprah, Television Pioneer and First Black Female Billionaire In America Continues to Enlighten and Uplift Millions
Although Oprah Winfrey ended the iconic Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011, she leveraged her ownership of her television property into a multimedia empire that remains a testament to her successes as the first Black female billionaire in North America.
The media mogul and television pioneer saw an opportunity to create an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As host and supervising producer of the top-rated, award-winning The Oprah Winfrey Show, she was proud to extend her resources to entertain, enlighten and uplift millions of viewers for nearly 30 years.(Getty Images)
It was a groundbreaking distribution deal between Winfrey and television programming syndicator King World Productions Inc. in 1998 that not only supplemented her wealthy fortune but it spawned an empire, Harpo Productions Inc.
From No. 14 on the BLACK ENTERPRISE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE list with $309 million in revenues, the company continues to grow and thrive.
Making history as a television pioneer
In January of 1984, Chicago’s ABC affiliate WLS-TV offered Winfrey a 30-minute morning talk show called AM Chicago. Her program was eventually renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and expanded to an hour in length.
By the age of 32, Winfrey took the reins as the first African American nationally syndicated television host and the first Black person to control her own major studio when she launched her television production company.
At the time, Winfrey’s West Side-based studios would go on to reap more profits of producing her hourlong weekday talk show. The Oprah Winfrey Show generated roughly $300 million in gross revenues annually, far more than any other talk show in the country.
In April 2000, Oprah and Hearst Magazines introduced O, The Oprah Magazine, a monthly magazine that has become one of today’s leading women’s lifestyle publications. Two years later, Oprah launched the first international edition of O, The Oprah Magazine in South Africa, extending her “live your best life” message abroad.
In 2002, Oprah Winfrey was named the first recipient of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. She became the first Black female billionaire in the United States in 2003. During this time, Winfrey was transitioning into a global media leader as she created more platforms as a satellite radio programmer and broadway producer.
After a successful 25 year run of her show, Winfrey debuted the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on January 1, 2011 and is available in 85 million homes. The cable television network is considered the “first and only network named for, and inspired by, a single iconic leader,” according to her online biography.
The venture also includes the award-winning digital platform Oprah.com, a premier women’s lifestyle website, offering advice on everything from the mind, body and spirit to food, home and relationships.
O, The Oprah Magazine discontinued its monthly print version after its December 2020 issue. The publication transitioned to a more digitally centric focus and remained online. The move marked its twentieth year of helping women live their best lives through personal growth content.
A humanitarian at work
With a winning track record, Harpo Studios’ production credits include top-rated syndicated television programs such as Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray and The Dr. Oz Show.
The studio has also created original TV programming exclusively for OWN including Oprah’s Next Chapter, Emmy Award-winning Oprah’s Lifeclass, Oprah: Where Are They Now?, Oprah’s Master Class, Iyanla: Fix My Life and the Emmy Award®-winning “Super Soul Sunday,” and more.
From exploring the racial inequities in the healthcare system to exploring the remarkable career and life of the late Sidney Poitier, Winfrey’s credits as a producer has illuminated both systemic racism and the contributions of Black Americans.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Winfrey tenaciously absorbed the stories of people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and had the passion to share and give back.
Last year, TIME released its star-studded list of “Most Influential People,” highlighting an incredible group of luminaries who have taken on new importance after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Winfrey made the list and former first lady Michelle Obama wrote a tribute to honor her.
“Whether she’s talking to pop stars, presidents, schoolgirls, scholars—or she’s asking you about your life over a glass of wine in the living room—oprah has always had that uncanny ability to open us up, to hear beyond our words, and to uncover a higher truth, to be vulnerable with us in a way that allows us to be vulnerable back. that’s her secret. but what i love most about oprah is that she has never been content to keep it for herself,” Obama said.
On Sept.17, 2021, Oprah’s Book Club, founded in 1996, celebrated 25 years.The literary champion was selected as the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion to commend a “lifetime of devoted literary advocacy and a commitment to inspiring new generations of readers and writers,” according to a press release statement.
Over time, Winfrey’s influence has transcended the selling and buying of books. Her book engagement and opinions generated mega book sales and stock prices for dozens of authors.