The big news to come out of Oprah’s final season that launched this week was the “oh wow” moment on the season premiere where she gave away a trip to Australia to her entire studio. Lost in all the commotion of that, was a commitment Oprah made that she wants to be 100 percent present for every show this year and to use this last year to revisit important shows from her past.
Two days in and Oprah already delivered on her promise. Wednesday’s show had Oprah returning to Williamson, West Virgina. She did a show there in 1987 because people of Williamson were outraged that Michael Sisco, a man with AIDS, swam in the town pool. This was a time when many were still uninformed about AIDS, but there was no mistaking the hate directed at Michael for an entire hour of television by the people of his own community.
Oprah went back to the exact same spot she did the interview. Michael has since died and Oprah brought on his 3 sisters who talked about how hard that was on him and them. Oprah also brought back many of the main participants in the original show to compare how their feelings have or have not changed since then. While there was one major participant who wasn’t entirely contrite, (but definitely regretful), many townspeople in the audience expressed regret and shame about how they treated Michael. Some apologized to Michael’s sisters.
The show served in part as a time capsule, to see how we as a Country have evolved in 23 years. Many people, myself included, are generally resigned to the fact that most people don’t change. This show existed to disprove that. It also very much illustrated the power of “I’m Sorry” and forgiveness. It really served as a testament to what makes Oprah so special. Whether Oprah was talking to Michael’s sisters or to some of the townspeople that displayed hateful behavior, Oprah asked questions without scorn and judgment and certainly without exploitation. She honestly wanted sincere answers and was genuinely seeking the truth. When she did make a point that questioned the (harsh) behavior displayed by some of the participants, she asked it calmly, without contempt and without drama that would call attention to her. (Imagine how this would have played out on certain cable opinion shows). At one point she succinctly and simply asked a participant “you have this room of God-fearing people, where was the compassion”? That was a question many of us are asking at home.
In an age where shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Real Housewives” command attention and other daytime talk shows consist of exploitative paternity tests played out as a soap opera on camera, Oprah today displayed why she’s in a class by herself. She just might be one of the last bastions of integrity in this ever-changing media world. In a world where bad behavior has become the route to celebrity, she is a champion for compassion, decency and human kindness, not just in the topics she covers, but in the way she treats her guests. After 25 years, that’s a mighty feat and one that will be missed on broadcast TV as a whole when she leaves daytime next Fall.