Like the ecstatic masses in St. Peter's Square peering at the sky waiting for white smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel's chimney, millions currently await the announcement of who will succeed Oprah Winfrey when The Great One semi-retires in September 2011. I've got guesses.
Luckily a pilgrimage to Oprah's studios in Chicago will not be necessary to stay abreast of the proceedings, as Winfrey and Survivor guru Mark Burnett announced plans to air it on TV! Naturally it will run on Oprah's network, OWN. And although Your Own Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star is not explicitly about finding the "next Oprah," we can only hope that is its real goal. How would we go on otherwise?
To help narrow down the search, I've thought of some likely contenders:
Tyra Banks: Time was, Oprah seemed to be grooming Tyra Banks as her heir(weave) apparent. She was an Oprah "youth correspondent" or some such rubbish despite an abrasive camera presence and fascination with herself above all else. The relationship became more muted over time as Banks began her own misbegotten talk show that squared off against in no way came close to competing with the crown jewel in Oprah's intergalactic media empire. In a huge blow to Joel McHale and scores of fans who loved Tyra unironically, the gabfest went off the air last month, knocking Tyra down several spots in the succession line.
Dina Lohan: The World's Worst Mother once called herself White Oprah, laying her ambitions as bare as her daughter's work schedule. Despite her bold claim to the throne, I'm guessing Queen Oprah doesn't take too kindly to people, least of all Lohan people, comparing themselves to Queen Oprah.
Kirstie Alley: Nothing brings fans and talk show hosts closer together than shared weight struggles. So far Alley has parlayed her own battle of the bulge into sitcom fodder on third tier cable networks. A more confessional and schlocky approach could do wonders for her career and, who knows, maybe her waistline. Alley would have to tone down her bawdy humor to reach a mass audience, which is a compromise she might not be willing to take. Helping her odds: she is spiritual, like Oprah. Hurting her chances: the spirituality comes via Scientology.
Jillian Michaels: Biggest Loser and Losing It With Jillian drill sergeant Jillian Michaels already has a resume chock-full of the fleeting and platitudinous self-improvement Oprah fans can't get enough of. She claims to be bisexual, which would spice things up. But unlike Oprah, she long overcame obesity and these days might be too much of a jacked hardbody (and vaguely terrifying hardass) to dish up Oprah-style televised comfort food for thought.
Conan O'Brien: Because the great Conan shouldn't share a network with George Lopez. Also, the plight of redheads can't be much easier than the plight of the obese. Whip out those Kleenex, ladies.
Lisa Ling: Ling is a frequent guest on Oprah when Winfrey is jonesing for topics a bit heftier than menopausal makeovers, Julia Roberts plugging her latest, or the ideal shape of a human turd. But is Ling too credible a journalist to stoop to some of the lower depths inherent to any talk show? Is she too stubbornly slim for the general audience to relate to? Having already paid her dues on a frivolous yak marathon (The View), I'm betting Ling isn't interested enough in the gig to find out.
Odds:40-A Lowly Thetan-Level 1