Special Exhibition

Watching Oprah

The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture

#WatchingOprah will use the story of Oprah Winfrey and her phenomenally successful daytime television talk show as a lens through which to explore contemporary American history and culture.

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As an African American woman who founded her own media company and became a cultural icon watched by millions of viewers around the world, Winfrey harnessed the power of the media to break down barriers, empower herself, and inspire others.

Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture considers the story and impact of Oprah Winfrey in her many roles: as host of a world-famous television talk show; as an actress, film producer, and media mogul; as a philanthropist and educator; and as a daughter of the civil rights generation whose phenomenal story of success illuminates the struggles and achievements of African American women throughout history.

Museum visitors will come to better understand how Winfrey and The Oprah Winfrey Show reflected and influenced changes in American society, especially in regards to issues of race, gender, and the mass media.

The exhibition features original artifacts from Harpo Studios in Chicago, home of The Oprah Winfrey Show for over two decades, along with other items from the personal collection of Oprah Winfrey. Photographs and video provide additional context and illuminate key topics and themes. The exhibition content is organized into three primary sections, "America Shapes Oprah," "The Oprah Winfrey Show, " and "Oprah Shapes America."

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Exhibition Open Through June 2019

  • Inspirational Speaker Iyanla Vanzant with Winfrey during a "Remembering Your Spirit" segment on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 1999. Credit: Harpo, Inc/George Burns.
  • Studio audience reactions during "Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things" episode, 2010. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • Oprah Winfrey announces plans to end The Oprah Winfrey Show after the 2010-2011 season, 2009. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns
  • Jamie Foxx presents portrait of Oprah Winfrey by Artis Lane, 2005. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • Sen. Barack Obama discusses his book, "The Audacity of Hope," on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2006. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • Civil Rights Legends Honorees, 2014. Standing left to right: Rep. John Lewis, Julian Bond, Sidney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Dick Gregory, and Berry Gordy. Seated, left to right: Ambassador Andrew Young, Diane Nash, Juanita Jones Abernathy, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Marian Wright Edelman, and Rev. C.T. Vivian. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • Oprah Winfrey addresses reporters after her trial victory, Amarillo, Texas, 1998. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • "Affirmative Action," The Oprah Winfrey Show, 1989. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show, 1996. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • "Should Handguns Be Banned?" The Oprah Winfrey Show, 1989. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • Announcing the first Oprah's Book Club selection, 1996. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns.
  • Control room at Harpo Studios with screens showing OWN programming, ca. 2015. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns
  • "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," United Center Chicago, 2011. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns
  • Studio audience on "Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things" episode, 2010. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns
  • Studio audience of The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2010. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns
  • Oprah Winfrey greeting fans in Sydney, Australia, 2010. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns
  • Oprah Winfrey and audience members with new cars, 2004. Credit: Harpo, Inc./George Burns

Special Exhibition Overview

I. America Shapes Oprah: 1954–1985  

This biographical section examines Oprah Winfrey in the context of her times, as an African American woman who came of age as America struggled with the promises and challenges of racial integration and women’s liberation, and as television expanded its power and presence in people’s daily lives. Key events in Winfrey’s life, from her early childhood to the launch of her broadcast career, are considered in relationship to these broader political, social, and cultural changes. 

II. The Oprah Winfrey Show: 1986–2011 

This section explores the 25-year history of The Oprah Winfrey Show, including Winfrey’s role as host and executive producer, both on screen and behind the scenes. It examines how the show engaged with current events and race and gender issues, and how the format and focus evolved over time from a conventional talk show based on audience participation to a lifestyle-oriented show based on Winfrey’s celebrity brand.   

III. Oprah Shapes America: 1980s to present  

This section explores the 25-year history of The Oprah Winfrey Show, including Winfrey’s role as host and executive producer, both on screen and behind the scenes. It examines how the show engaged with current events and race and gender issues, and how the format and focus evolved over time from a conventional talk show based on audience participation to a lifestyle-oriented show based on Winfrey’s celebrity brand.  

Ask Oprah: An Intimate Conversation

Over the years, Oprah Winfrey interviewed thousands of guests. In an exclusive interview produced for the #WatchingOprah exhibition, Winfrey responds to questions about her life, career, and legacy.

How do you see your place in history?

How would you describe the OWS?

How has money changed your life?

I want everyone watching to know that there's a story just like yours. #WatchingOprah

Highlights About The Oprah Winfrey Show

  • 25 seasons from September 8, 1986, to May 25, 2011, in Chicago, IL. 
  • 4,561 shows
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show remains the highest-rated daytime talk show in American television history.
  • In 2013, TV Guide ranked The Oprah Winfrey Show as the 19th greatest TV show of all time.
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show averaged between 10-20 million viewers a day.

Awards for The Oprah Winfrey Show

  • 47 Daytime Emmy Awards
  • 12 NAACP Image Awards
  • 4 People's Choice Awards
  • 8 GLAAD Media Awards
  • 2 Online Film and Television Awards
  • 2 Primetime Emmy Awards 

Explore More From The Museum Collection

Discover photographs, objects, and more from The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The exhibition is supported by MGM Resorts International, Target, Bank of America, and FedEx Corporation.