When Oprah says goodbye, will she really be gone?

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

As one of the network's future offerings she will star on "Oprah's Next Chapter," whose title signals how she views her ambitious new TV venture overall. And though most of OWN's programming won't be hosted by her, everything will be vetted by her to make sure the message fits into her live-your-best-life gospel.

So how much in the world is really changing?

A heart-tugging promo for this week's last three editions of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" taps into the collective memory the audience shares for certain other shows on the occasion of their passing.

Seen in the commercial are Walter Cronkite's last "CBS Evening News" broadcast (March 6, 1981). Mary Richards dimming the lights in the WJM newsroom ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show" finale from March 19, 1977). Johnny Carson's emotional "I bid you a very heartfelt good night," his last moments hosting the "Tonight Show" (May 22, 1992). Sam (Ted Danson) telling a would-be bar patron, "Sorry, we're closed," on the "Cheers" finale (May 20, 1993). A glimpse at the finales of "The Cosby Show" (April 30, 1992) and "M-A-S-H" (Feb. 28, 1983), which was viewed by just under 106 million people, an audience record that stood until the epic New Orleans Saints-Indianapolis Colts clash in the 2010 Super Bowl.

The "Oprah" commercial asks: "Where were you?" And its unspoken but obvious subtext elevates the Winfrey show's exit to the lofty ranks of those TV milestones. You will want to be there (it seems to be saying), gathered with your loved ones in front of the TV, where you are guaranteed an "I-was-there" memory for a lifetime when Oprah says goodbye.

Really?

The episodes airing Monday and Tuesday were taped last week in front of crowd of 13,000 at Chicago's United Center.

Tom Hanks. Michael Jordan. Tom Cruise. Madonna. Stevie Wonder. Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Beyonce. Even Winfrey's longtime but low-profile friend, Stedman Graham, was among the many luminaries on hand for the two-part "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular."

Then Wednesday's show, being kept tight under wraps, is meant as a surprise for the viewers.

Sounds like fun, if you happen to catch it. But after that, you won't have to look hard to find Oprah. She pervades her new network.

The rest of the world? It will carry on as always.

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Online:

http://www.oprah.com

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier