"She has been one of the family for Americans for 25 years," Tina Brown, founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast told "Good Morning America" today. "The audience is just going to have to follow her, right?"
But where Winfrey will go from here remains to be seen. Winfrey notified her staff late Thursday afternoon that she would be ending her talk show on Sept. 9, 2011, just as the show will mark 25 years on the air. The meeting, insiders say, was "emotional, supportive and respectful."
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz told "Good Morning America" today that while the natural reaction is to consider a replacement in the daytime talk community, it won't be as simple as finding another charismatic personality.
"She has this trust, this intimate connection with the audience because she talks about her own mistakes" and invites others to do the same, he said. "I'm not sure Oprah can be replaced."
That's not to say there aren't a few possibilities -- Kurtz threw out names like Ellen DeGeneres and Winfrey prodigy Dr. Mehmet Oz, both of whom already have their own daytime shows, as well as Katie Couric, whose contract with CBS ends in 2011.
Brown even suggested that Michelle Obama consider throwing her hat into the ring once the Obamas are out of the White House, saying she shares Winfrey's sense of warmth and empathy.
But for now, Kurtz said, Winfrey's planned departure will cause ripples that reach far beyond a saddened audience. He noted that CBS, the show's distributor, will likely take a hit, as well the network affiliates, mostly ABC, who rely on Winfrey's show for a "steroids like boost" into their local newscasts.
Winfrey had hinted to "Good Morning America" in September that this type of announcement could be forthcoming.
"I am literally in thoughtful prayer and consideration to continue to go ahead," she said shortly before the start of this year's season. "You'll be hearing about it before the end of the year."
Winfrey had been invited into a generation of homes day after day, reaching 33 million viewers at her peak. She has been known for her exclusive interviews with celebrities and public figures as well as her seemingly endless energy as she promoted everything and anything that she believed would lead Americans to a better life.
"I do know a lot of women who make that date with Oprah every day," Brown said.
Her show, No. 1 in ratings for 23 consecutive seasons, has been seen in 145 countries.
In 1993 she landed an interview with Michael Jackson at his Neverland Ranch, yet in a retrospective show this year shortly after the icon's death, Winfrey admitted she struggled with parts of the interview and pointed out to viewers which of Jackson's answers made her squirm.
And the whole world's jaw dropped with hers when Tom Cruise infamously jumped on her couch in 2005, professing his love for actress Katie Holmes.
But she also tackled the tough stuff, confronting racists in the 1980s and inviting then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to talk to the people during his historic campaign in 2008.