This Week in Television History

This Week in Television History
August, 1978

Friday, July 30, 2010

In August 1978, Oprah Winfrey began co-hosting a talk show in Baltimore, Maryland, "People are Talking." 30 years later, she is the most successful woman in Television.

Born on January 29, 1954 in Mississippi to unmarried parents, Oprah was mostly raised by her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee on a farm. Her father Vernon Winfrey was a coal miner, her mother Vernita Lee was a housemaid. She was originally named Orpah, a character from the Old Testament, but her name was misspelled on her birth certificate. Over the years, the name stuck.

At age six, Oprah moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother. Despite having been molested by a cousin, uncle, and family friend while still a child, Oprah was a brilliant student and recieved a scholarship to attend Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin. Despite her brilliant intellect, however, the teenaged Oprah ran away from home and lived on the streets for a period. When she was 14, she gave birth to a male baby which died within a few months. Her mother, unable to reign the young girl in, sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was strict and made her education a priority. Oprah became an honors student and graduated from East Nashville High School.

Soon Afterwards, a young, attractive Oprah won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, and the local urban contemporary station WVOL hired her to do the news part-time. Oprah graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in Speech and Performing Arts in 1973 which led to a job as the first black TV news anchor/reporter with WTVF-TV.

In 1976 Oprah moved to the larger market of Baltimore where she was hired by WJZ-TV to co-anchor the six o'clock news. Riding a wave of increasing popularity with audiences of all races, Oprah was recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show "People Are Talking", which premiered on August 14, 1978. Five short years later, Oprah moved to the third largest television market in the country to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk-show, AM Chicago. The first episode was telecast on January 2, 1984. Within months after Oprah took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. It was renamed as "The Oprah Winfrey Show". The show was syndicated to network affiliated stations all over the United States in 1986, and Oprah owned the property. Very quickly, Oprah turned her show's focus away from the sensational topics that were the fare of most daytime talk shows, favoring topics about social issues that empowered women and minorities. However, the celebrity interview was still a staple of the show. Throughout her career, Oprah battled her own issues, such as her weight which visibly changed over the years and which was documented many times during the show's run.

She also branched out into motion pciture acting, portraying Sofia, the distraught housewife in Stephen Spielberg's film "The Color Purple".   She appeared in other films: including, "Native Son" as well as the "Women of Brewster Place", and she also appeared in numerous television shows as herself. In 1987 Ophra's much acclaimed episode about Forsyth County, Georgia, where no blacks had been allowed to live since 1912, won her an Emmy award for best talk/service show host and best show. In 1988 she was named Broadcaster of the Year by the International Televsion and Radio Society.

By the late nineties, Oprah built her own studios (named Harpo) and spawned other productions similar to her daytime show.

1985:  Dr.Phil was spun off :

 Oprah co-starred in Steven Spielberg's epic film adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple. She earned immediate accolades as Sofia, the distraught housewife.

1986: The Oprah Winfrey Show was expanded to a full hour, and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986. She starred in the movie 'Native Son' as Janet Thomason.

1987: On February 9 her much acclaimed episode from her show was aired from Forsyth County, Georgia, where no blacks had been allowed to live since 1912. Oprah won her first Emmy award for best talk/service show host and best show. She played a cameo role in the Danny DeVito movie "Throw Momma from the Train".

1988: The International Television and Radio Society named Oprah Broadcaster of the Year.She bought an apartment in Chicago and a farm in Indiana. She appeared in the TV program Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special as herself .

1989: Oprah’s half brother, Jeffrey Lee died of AIDS. She played the role of Mattie Michael in the movie "The Women of Brewster Place". She received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Entertainer of the year award.

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