Oprah’s influence on TV shows lives on


Oprah gave Barack Obama with his wife Michelle national exposure on her talk show, which helped him launch his presidential campaign. Photo/REUTERS

Whenever Ms Carol Mandi, the host of Sebuleni, a local lifestyle talk show on NTV, is preparing for appearance, two things come to her mind: asking the right questions and emotionally connecting with her interviewees.

This, she admits, plays a big role in creating a relaxed atmosphere.

During the show, a live band plays while a cosy homely set of colourful seats — facing each other — form the centrepiece of the event.

Then Ms Mandi looks straight into the camera and introduces the day’s theme and interviewees.

Sebuleni is one of the local shows that have been influenced by Oprah Winfrey’s talk show that is broadcast to millions of viewers worldwide and which will leave a legacy once the Queen of Talk Show bids her fans bye in 2011.

Ms Mandi has learnt a few tricks from the Oprah show: being natural and maintaining control in any situation.

This is one of the subtle ways that Oprah has manifested herself in Kenya and which she will be remembered for, for years to come.

Most powerful people

From her Harpo Studios in Chicago in the United States, the daytime television talk show queen has commanded a lot of influence for the 25 years that the show has been in production, broadcasting in 140 countries, including Kenya.

It is against this backdrop that the 55-year-old host made it to the Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s most powerful people.

Apart from Sebuleni, Oprah’s style of presentation has played a major role in shaping local television talk shows such as Julie Gichuru’s Fist to Five that runs on Citizen TV.

In Ms Mandi’s telling, Oprah has set a benchmark of what a talk show should be and how it can have an impact to people of different creeds, races, nationality and gender.

Many will remember Oprah breaking down in tears during interviews.

But probably one highlight that got many talking was the 2004, 19th edition show, when she gave cars to nearly 300 people in her studio, a Sh518 million ($7 million) giveaway.

But as the countdown begins to the September 2011 date when she stops airing her popular show, the big question on everyone’s lips is —who can fit in her shoes?

“Nobody can be Oprah. This is an exercise in futility. This is the reason Tyra Banks and Ellen DeGeneres (other popular talk show hosts in the US) have their own huge following. If one wants to succeed, they need to create their own niche,” said Ms Mandi.

The Oprah Winfrey Show has found a home in most local TV stations.

Currently airing on NTV, it has been aired on KBC and KTN too.

A whole generation of viewers has grown up watching Oprah, either through local stations or on DSTV.

According to Synovate, a market research company, Oprah is a popular guest in most Kenyan homes.

Though she is currently experiencing low ratings in the US, in Kenya her shows are popular with over 500,000 viewers.

Citizen TV’s Fist to Five has over one million viewers, while Sebuleni has a following of over 300,000.

Oprah’s departure, experts say, may have a negative impact on TV ratings especially for the CBS Television which syndicates her shows.

That aside, booksellers are also beneficiaries of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

She has helped develop a reading culture among her audience and viewers.

A survey in Nairobi’s central business district shows that bookshops have been making a kill from authors turned bestsellers due to Oprah’s endorsement in her popular book club.

Since the books are not necessarily new releases, little known books have been turned into popular bestsellers.

One such a book is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.

Published in 2005, the book was endorsed by Oprah in January 2008.

Kenyans have since become enthusiastic about reading it.

“We have been selling the book for close to three years. However, when we received it with the new cover with an Oprah book club tag, it is almost sold out,” said Mr John Mwangi, a sales assistance at Bookpoint bookshop in Nairobi.

With the endorsement, the book’s cost rose by Sh200 and now retails at about Sh1,000.

Other than books, Oprah’s endorsement of Barack Obama gave him mileage in his campaign for the US presidency.

Although she will call it a day in 2011, it will certainly not be the last time we see the TV personality.

The Oprah Winfrey Network, a cable TV set-up, is set to kick off in January 2012 while her magazine, ‘O’, is still on newsstands.

Also, her charity foundations are still functional.