Now here’s how you celebrate the Big Five-Oh. The venerable CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes will kick off its golden anniversary season in September, and this week its producers surprised TV viewers with an early birthday gift: Oprah!
The match seems made in TV heaven. Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful talk-show hosts of all time, has signed on as a special contributor for 60 Minutes, the most successful TV news magazine ever, and the longest running prime-time television show of all time. She’ll start in September. For Winfrey, 63, it marks a return to the spotlight that shone brightly on her during her 25 years hosting The Oprah Winfrey Show, which ended its run in 2011.
Since then, Winfrey has been a bit less visible to the average TV viewer, even as she has kept herself as busy as ever. The eponymous Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) cable channel, a venture of her Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, started slowly in 2011 but has gained impressive traction over the last few years. Many of the channel’s most popular shows have been more intimate versions of her old talk show, including Super Soul Sunday, in which she interviews self-help and spiritual advisers about personal fulfillment, the celebrity-focused Oprah’s Master Class and, of course, reruns of old Oprah episodes, with their mega-popular, now-nostalgic elixir of famous people, newsmakers, self-help and shrieking audience members.
At her height, Winfrey, hugely successful in media ventures from magazine publishing, TV, film and theater production, could shift cultural tastes with merely a wink in a certain direction. Oprah's book club gave a much-needed jolt to a flagging book publishing industry in the 1990s and 2000s, and some pundits trace Barack Obama’s upset win over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries to Winfrey’s 2007 endorsement of her fellow Chicagoan. A fast friend to the Obamas during their time in the White House, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
It’s her enduring popularity that makes Winfrey such a catch for 60 Minutes. “There’s only one Oprah Winfrey,” gushed 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager in announcing the addition.
For Winfrey, fresh off her 63rd birthday last week, it’s a sign that she has no intention of slowing down. While not quite a reinvention (she started her career in the 1970s in local news), her 60 Minutes work will return her to the type of personal stories that have most closely defined her career. “At a time when people are so divided, my intention is to bring relevant insight and perspective, to look at what separates us, and help facilitate real conversations between people from different backgrounds,” she said.
It sounds like we could use Oprah more than ever.