In front of an astonishing 16.4 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey said goodbye to her daytime audience — and her highly rated The Oprah Winfrey Show — on May 25, marking the end of a 25-year dynasty that TV will never see again. Unlike the Anderson Coopers and Rachael Rays of today, Winfrey launched at a time when there was little competition from cable or other outlets. More important, no daytime host has ever, or probably ever will, come close to matching Winfrey’s cultlike influence; she changed the way we read books, how we perceived celebrities, and even how we elected our president. She was, quite simply, the most influential woman (and one of the richest) in the country — a feat all the more breathtaking given her roots in rural poverty.
Winfrey wasn’t the only talking head to stage a high-profile exit this year. Katie Couric left CBS Evening News and Regis Philbin signed off from Live! With Regis and Kelly, but their departures didn’t strike the same chord as Winfrey’s. She marked her final broadcast not by hosting a famous guest but by simply addressing her fans. Her larger-than-life persona is hardly out of commission: The 57-year-old mogul serves as CEO of her eponymous cable network, OWN, and will use it to host a new prime-time show called Oprah’s Next Chapter in January 2012 — but her days of handing out cars or admonishing deceitful authors in daytime are definitely over.