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Monday, September 13, 2010


Oprah celebrates last season premiere by sending entire audience to Australia

'Oprah' celebrates Oprah on last season premiere


Steve Johnson

Tribune reporter

9:52 a.m. CDT, September 13, 2010

Beginning the final season of her daytime talk show Monday, Oprah Winfrey came out not swinging, but dancing.

She and actor John Travolta, voted the show's all-time favorite guest after 11 appearances, did a modest pas-de-deux to the tune "Love Train," kicking off a show that Winfrey, in a pre-show teaser, promised would bring "two of the most heart-pounding, head-spinning surprises of all time."

Two of those shockers included news that she'll fly the 300-person studio audience to Australia, for an eight-day December trip that will coincide with Winfrey taping at least two episodes there, and Paul Simon playing an updated version of a song he wrote for Winfrey 15 years ago, for her 10th-anniversary show.

Not a surprise: Oprah tears.
Her season-premiere audience was as packed with partisans as one of President George Bush's town-hall meetings: Only "ultimate" Oprah fans were invited, and they yelled, cheered, even shed a few tears of their own to see their heroine beginning the season-long process of saying farewell. Her show airs at 9 a.m. in Chicago, where Winfrey's national career began, giving local fans an earlier look than the rest of the country gets.

Another surprise came when six fans from the Boston area, sent on a road trip to the taping by Winfrey's staff, were tricked into driving right onto the stage, into the middle of the show in progress. And actor Don Johnson did a walk-on, a reference to Winfrey's inability to land the then-"Miami Vice" star as a guest on her first show. Times have changed.

Right away Monday, a retrospective of Travolta's appearances during Winfrey's 24 previous seasons made it clear what kind of year this will be: gushy, sentimental, celebratory of Winfrey's place in her fans' lives and in the culture.

"Oprah, there's only one of you, and there'll never be another one," Travolta told the Chicago-based talk-show host, who will move on next year to host a new, less frequent, evening show on her own cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

A rabid fan from Alberta, Canada -- who estimated she has watched 5,500 hours of "Oprah" through the years -- was shown on tape calling Travolta's 50th-birthday toast to Winfrey her favorite on-show moment.

That not exactly understated toast? "You represent the best of our country, and what's possible in our country," Travolta said, "but more importantly you are a citizen of the world, and you are a hero to mankind."

Travolta became a hero to the audience later on, when he stepped out of a mock Qantas Airlines jet in pilot's uniform. The actor is, in fact, a Qantas pilot, and he beamed as Winfrey told her audience about their trip. Confetti, tears and hugs intermingled in the studio, even more when Winfrey, in her role as bestower of gifts, also told the crowd they were each getting a new Motorola Defy mobile phone.

To close the show, Winfrey listened, rapt, eyes moist, as her staff apparently surprised her with the Simon appearance and song.

"Twenty-five years have come and gone," he sang, "and the story's still unfolding."

The plans, producers have said, are for the season to just keep getting bigger. Fasten your seatbelts, viewers

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