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An Oprah-less Chicago Tries To Keep Talk Show Spirit Alive

Members of the studio audience wait outside Harpo Studios before the final taping of <em>The Oprah Winfrey Show</em> in Chicago in May 2011.
Paul Beaty
Members of the studio audience wait outside Harpo Studios before the final taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago in May 2011.

It's been nearly two years since Oprah ended her daily show, and Chicago's been adjusting to the loss of the daytime talk queen. Although she left a huge void, there's no need to write an obituary for the TV talk genre in Chicago.

In the lobby of Chicago's NBC Towers, the crowd of excited fans gathered for a TV taping is reminiscent of the Oprah days of old. But instead of Oprah, they're lined up to see veteran comedian Steve Harvey's show.

"I like Steve's energy. I like his shows. He's funny. He covers all topics," says fan Deloris Neal.

And its Harvey's style that Tom Eugling likes. "He's a regular guy. He tells it like it is, and it's very entertaining," says Eugling.

Harvey was one of the original Kings of Comedy. No longer on the standup circuit, he's the host of a popular morning radio show, of the television game show Family Feud and now his own nationally syndicated talk show called the Steve Harvey Show.

Harvey was approached to do this show after his first book, Act Like a Lady, and Think Like a Man hit the best-sellers list. He says he's working to build an entertaining and honest show geared around everyday people — and particularly designed to appeal to women but with a male perspective. And the best place to do such a show, says Harvey, is in Chicago.

"With Oprah leaving and stuff like that I thought it would be a nice little opening [and was hoping] a little bit of ... Oprah would wear off on you a little bit — that would be cool," Harvey says. "I don't have to make all the money Oprah made. A tenth of it would be nice. That's all I need. I'm not greedy. I don't need a billion."

Harvey was named best new talk show host at the People's Choice Awards earlier this year. Robert Feder, the media critic for Time Out Chicago, says the city had long been a hub for nationally syndicated daytime talk even before Oprah arrived in the 1980s.

"In fact, you have to go back 10 years to when Phil Donahue first came to Chicago. ... He really put Chicago on the map for shows that were intelligent, issue-oriented and tapping into an audience that really wasn't being served before," says Feder.

OK, so maybe Jerry Springer, who succeeded Donahue, didn't fit that bill, but even that show didn't start off as a tawdry slugfest. Feder says Harvey's show is smartly produced and the host is charismatic.

Over at the place where Oprah began her Chicago career, there's Windy City Live, a local show developed to fill the spot left open by Winfrey's departure.

Executive Producer Marlaine Selip says the live show — a mix of news, entertainment, celebrities and social media with co-hosts Ryan Chiaverini and Val Warner — started off a little like The View meets Regis and Kelly.

"It's hard to replace an Oprah, but it doesn't mean we can't do ... a show that serves this community and rates well," says Selip.

Selip says the show has found its rhythm and is doing well in the ratings. Would Selip like to boost them even more by getting Oprah to return for a visit to the show at the station where she started?

"I would love that and I think it would be a full-circle moment. Do you think you could arrange that for us?" she says with a laugh.

Windy City Live and the Steve Harvey Show are thriving. Just about everyone here agrees, though, that with the advent of so many changes in the media landscape, the huge juggernaut that was The Oprah Winfrey Show is unlikely to happen again.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.