Reporting Bob Roberts
UPDATED 05/24/11 6:28 p.m.
CHICAGO (STMW) — They emerged squinting into the sunshine outside Harpo Studios, subdued and spent from the host’s extended solo goodbye on the final taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” Tuesday afternoon. CBS 2′s Dorothy Tucker reports on Oprah’s last day.
The taping began around 1 p.m., and the audience members, who exited a bit more than an hour later, said that in contrast to the just-aired, star-studded United Center tribute, the finale (airing at 9 a.m. Wednesday on WLS-Ch. 7) was an intimate affair.
“It was all Oprah,” said Tracy Stevenson, 50, an accountant who flew out from her Atlanta-area home when her girlfriend got tickets through the show’s online selection process. “She just spoke to the audience.”
Those who were inside said the audience did include some familiar faces, such as filmmaker Tyler Perry, actress Cicely Tyson, TV journalist and former California First Lady Maria Shriver, financial advisor Suze Orman, author Bob Greene, plus Winfrey’s longtime companion Stedman Graham and close friend Gayle King. Stevenson said Winfrey also gave a shout-out to her fourth-grade teacher for validating her dreams at an early age.
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But, audience members said, no one else talked but Winfrey.
“It was like a closing lesson of all the lessons she’s learned and found interesting that she wanted to pass on to her viewers,” said Jessica Llamas, 28, a Chicago dental hygienist. “In the beginning she said this was a letter to all her viewers.”
“It was really emotional,” said Llamas’s friend Paola Hernandez, 27, a Naperville food server. “We were sitting right in the second row, so we were unbelievably excited, and as soon as she came out, we started crying. We couldn’t hold it in.”
The audience, as usual, was primarily women, and Tammy Evrard, 28, who works in digital advertising in Chicago, said, “everybody there had never been to a taping before. That was the common connection.”
She and her husband, Curt Evrard, said Winfrey discussed and showed clips covering the show’s more serious topics, such as child abuse and molestation.
“It was a little heavy,” Curt Evrard said. “She’s closing the show, and she wanted to close it on her terms. It wasn’t a party. She’s shed light on a light of important issues.”
Tammy Evrard added that Winfrey aimed to empower the audience to keep fighting the good fights, saying, essentially: “Because I’m not here anymore, you should go out and be a beacon for other people.”
As she and others spoke on the Washington Street sidewalk following the taping, Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, in his standard Cubs uniform (plus a white, sequined Michael Jackson glove on his left hand) stood on the corner chanting, “Oprah! Woo! Oprah! Woo!”
Audience members said the show ended with Winfrey leaving the stage, roaming the halls of Harpo Studios and thanking her staff; fan Angela Lapworth said Winfrey choked up as she said her thank yous and goodbyes to staff.
Stevenson says Winfrey told the standing-room-only crowd that she’s merely on to her next chapter. “It was basically ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you all’ and ‘it won’t be goodbye’; it will be ‘when we meet again,’” Stevenson said.
Finally, Winfrey stepped off the stage and passed through the crowd of standing audience members and staffers lining the hallways and populating the large staircase just inside the building’s main entrance.
“She started crying, and then everyone started crying,” Hernandez said, adding that a screen in the studio showed her making her way to her office, where “she literally kicked off her shoes, picked up her dog, and that was it.”
“And that’s the last we saw of her,” Llamas said.
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