"I cannot understate the impact that she has had on our culture," said Mary McNamara, a television critic at the Los Angeles Times. "You see it everywhere, from the explosion of memoirs to social media to journalists sharing their own opinions and own stories. That all started with Oprah."
Before Oprah, talk-show hosts of the 1960s, such as Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas, stuck with celebrity guests and objective discussions about politics, music, movies and other aspects of pop culture, said Janice Peck, an expert in media and culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of "The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era."
In the 1970s, Phil Donahue became the first host to invite everyday people onto his show and to walk the aisles, inviting the audience to join the conversation. Soon after, Barbara Walters began shocking viewers of 20/20 by asking questions that sometimes made her celebrity guests cry.
But when Oprah entered the talk show scene in 1986, she "just blew the whole thing open," McNamara said. "The only thing she was interested in was what made you feel, what made you cry, what you were scared of, what you were proud of. She was interviewing people as if she was talking to a child, getting to the bare emotional core."