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When Oprah says goodbye, will she really be gone?

Associated Press Modified: May 23, 2011 at 8:15 am •  Published: May 23, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — The sun will come out on Thursday. Bet your bottom dollar.

Moreover, the Earth will almost certainly still be spinning on its axis.

Even in Chicago, the city Oprah Winfrey is abandoning, life is pretty sure to continue as normal. Expect the pizza to be as tasty and the gusts off Lake Michigan to be as persistent on Thursday as they were the day before.

This is not to say change isn't in the wind.

As everybody knows, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is ending Wednesday after a spectacularly successful, quarter-century run, and the air is thick with "we-shall-not-see-its-likes-again" eulogies.

Understandable. After being a long fixture on daytime TV as well as in the national psyche, it may be hard for us to imagine how the 60-minute void Oprah is leaving can be filled. (Though it won't need to be filled until September. "Oprah" reruns will air on most stations throughout the summer months, helping viewers through their process of withdrawal.)

The closest thing to an heir apparent seems to be "Dr. Oz," the Winfrey-produced talk show whose star, Dr. Mehmet Oz, one of Winfrey's proteges. In many markets he's being rewarded with the 4 p.m. slot where "Oprah" reigned for so long.

But there is no clear consensus. In a few markets, the former "Oprah" station will forgo any syndicated replacement and instead launch an added hour of local news.

In short, these are big shoes to fill as Oprah Winfrey walks away.

Of course, her leave-taking has caught no one by surprise. She made it official in November 2009, declaring that "the countdown to the end of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' starts now."

At the time, I invited Oprah fans to get an early start on the grieving process as they began planning how to deal with the loss. I noted that, for a generation, Winfrey "has been our moral arbiter, lifestyle coach and window on the world.

"How then," I posed, "will we manage without Oprah as a daily TV reference point? How will we know what to read, buy or think?"

On the other hand, as Oprah walks away, how far is she really walking?

Granted, she'll reside 1,800 miles from Chicago, in Santa Barbara, Calif. But she will not be silent nor invisible. Her 5-month-old cable channel, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, is meant to be a round-the-clock, always-open source of Oprah-nalia, with Winfrey its spiritual curator maintaining a constant presence, even from off-camera.

Since its Jan. 1 sign-on, the network has suffered from lower-than-expected ratings, and, early this month, fired its CEO. But it's just getting started, and, with the end of her syndicated show, Winfrey plans to devote her full energies to OWN.

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