Oprah Winfrey: 'It's the Exact Right Time' to Leave Talk Show

Queen of talk chokes up while thanking fans on Friday's "Oprah."

Nov. 20, 2009 — -- Why is Oprah Winfrey leaving her iconic talk show? For her, the answer is simple: the time is right.

"I love this show, this show has been my life, and I love it enough to know when it's time to say goodbye," Winfrey told her studio audience during Friday's live edition of "Oprah." "Twenty-five years feels right in my bones and it feels right in my spirit. It's the perfect number. It's the exact right time."

With her eyes tearing and her voice breaking, Winfrey thanked the millions of people who've followed her over the years.

"Twenty-four years ago on Sept. 8, 1986, I went live from Chicago to watch the first national 'Oprah Winfrey Show,'" she said. "I knew then what a miraculous opportunity I had been given, but I certainly never could have imagined the yellow brick road of blessings that have led me here.

"These years with you, our viewers, have enriched my life beyond measure," she continued. "You all have graciously invited me into your living rooms, into your kitchens, into your lives."

"I just wanted to say that whether you've been here with me from the beginning or if you came on board last week, I want you all to know that my relationship with you is one that I hold very dear," Winfrey went on. "Your trust in me has brought me the greastest joy I have ever known."

Winfrey asserted that she and her show will only pick up steam between now and Sept. 9, 2011, when she goes off the air.

"We are going to knock your socks off," she said. "The countdown to the end of the Oprah Winfrey show starts now. And until that day, in 2011, when it ends, I intend to soak up every meaningful, joyful moment with you."

Winfrey's tearful thank you came less than 24 hours after Tim Bennett, president of her Harpo production house, broke the news of "Oprah's" finale to the TV stations that carry it. But Winfrey's 2011 goodbye marks more than just the end of a super successful TV series; it's the end of an era.

"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" Friday. "The audience is just going to have to follow her, right?"

Where Will Winfrey Go Next?

Where Winfrey will go from here remains to be seen. She 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 said, was "emotional, supportive and respectful."

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz told "Good Morning America" Friday 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."

Oprah Winfrey's Generation of Interviews, Show Extravaganzas

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.

She has shared her own history of abuse as she listened to others recount their own horrors. And she publicly shared her seemingly never-ending triumphs and defeat when it came to her fluctuating weight.

"She has kind of created the culture of sharing is caring. People feel they can go on her show and say things they don't want to say anywhere else," Brown said. "It's remarkable."

Her media empire has grown to include films, books, magazines and Web sites, in addition to her TV show. At one point, she was the world's only African-American billionaire, according to Forbes magazine

Winfrey, however, was never immune to mistakes and public gaffes. But they almost made her more endearing, Kurtz said, because she wasn't above admitting when she was wrong, such was the case in 2006 when she apologized to her audience for promoting author James Fry's "A Million Little Pieces" as a memoir when it was revealed that Fry fictionalized many of his accounts.

Brown also questioned Winfrey's fierce public support of Obama for president over then-candidate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after years of promoting women's achievements.

That said, Brown added, "she really did help to change race relations in many ways in popular culture"

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events