Life After Oprah

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This isn't the first time Oprah has teased us. Sure, last week Oprah Winfrey announced that she's going to stop hosting her talk show in 2006, but she says this every so often, like the astronomers do about an asteroid heading toward the earth. But people actually read the articles about Oprah.

Men get hopeful each time, because for nearly two decades Oprah has brought us nothing but pain and heartache. Oprah is the opiate of the female masses, teaching them to build self-esteem by confronting the past and setting goals instead of feeling good the old-fashioned way: by having casual sex. She encourages women to look inside and "find their passion" without once entertaining the possibility that this passion might be fed with lots of sleeping around. Worse yet, she sets all these ridiculous expectations about reading once a month.

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The whole idea of talking openly and sharing your feelings is antithetical to the good old-time values of emotional repression on which this country was founded. Plus, Oprah is way too self-satisfied with the common sense she hands out. The current issue of O magazine has an article on coping that suggests that you "make prioritizing a priority." There's also an awful lot of talk about angels. The only angels men want to see are in Victoria's Secret ads. And her solution to everything is telling you to tack a note to your mirror. Tacking a note to your mirror accomplishes nothing but blocking you from seeing your fat self.

Despite all the good things she may do for women's self-esteem, men can't help feeling about Oprah the same way that gold investors felt about William Jennings Bryan. She's just not looking out for our best interests. The only men who will suffer from Oprah not being on the air are Wally Lamb and Stedman Graham.

Besides, men are frustrated that we don't have our own Oprah. Ours are all embarrassing flameouts like Robert Bly, or the Promise Keepers, or Al Gore the week that Naomi Wolf made him wear flannel. The best we have right now are Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel of The Man Show, and those guys wouldn't even be able to fill out their live audience if they didn't liberally sprinkle the studio with pole dancers.

I have absolutely no idea why women so wholly embrace Oprah's sanctimonious declarations of common sense. So I grabbed a Midwestern phone book and selected a woman at random, much the same way Larry King seems to select wives. The first person I reached was Lisa Davis of Des Moines, Iowa. After I explained that I really wasn't selling anything, I had a nice conversation with Lisa, a 42-year-old grandmother of two and cashier at Casey's General Store. Like many Americans, Davis gets her news from TIME, only this time she got it more directly than usual. "Oh, no!" she said when I told her Oprah is going off the air. "I love Oprah Winfrey. I watch her program daily." After calming her down ("2006 is a very long way away. I mean with terrorist threats the way they are, who knows if Des Moines will even be here then?"), Davis told me how much she likes both TIME and LIFE magazines. This was going to be a long call.

After breaking her heart yet again with the news that the monthly version of LIFE was folded two years ago ("Oh, no! So is it just TIME now?"), I asked Davis how she was going to fill the coming Oprah void. She said she guessed she would go to church more and get her spirituality that way. The last time the end of an entertainment program caused an uptick for the church was when the Romans canceled throwing Christians to the lions.

As for what she loves about Oprah, Davis talked about angels and being reminded of what's important in life and learning how to listen to others or something like that. I kind of tuned out around then. She said Oprah's show has helped, in particular, in communicating with her fiance. I asked her if all the Oprahisms she uses in talking about their relationship ever annoys him. "Oh, no, I don't tell him what she says," Davis said. "I just think about it and use it on him."

She said the best advice actually comes from Dr. Phil, the psychologist who is Oprah's Oprah. That's when I asked her if she was looking forward to Dr. Phil's new syndicated show in the fall. "Dr. Phil is getting his own show in the fall!" she yelled to her daughter in the next room. "There you go. That's what I'll be watching in 2006. Dr. Phil."

But the post-Oprah world will not offer a succession that simple. The reality is that the next daytime guru is very likely to be even more coddling and touchy-feely than Oprah herself. Remember when Phil Donahue seemed really threatening to masculinity? Before that Merv Griffin seemed like a wimp. Daytime talk-show hosts follow some reverse Darwinian law whereby they get less and less threatening every generation. The next daytime guru is going to be either Elmo or Tinky Winky.