Think Tank Daily: Oprah closes Harpo Studios in Chicago

Harpo Studios Near West Side studio. (Photo Credit: Alan Brunettin/WTTW)

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Oprah Winfrey announced Tuesday by announcing she was closing Harpo Studios by the end of the year, eliminating the last tie she has with Chicago, the city that gave her start 31 years ago when she became host of A.M.Chicago.

The former queen of talk had been winding down operations on the studio since she ended her talk show in 2011 to focus on the OWN cable network, which produces its shows in Los Angeles. She sold most of the studio to a real estate company and was leased back by the property. The lease is up in April 2016.

But here’s a thought: As noted in an article written by Lewis Lazare in Chicago Business Journal Tuesday, Ms. Winfrey made the announcement in an interview with the tabloid Hollywood Reporter instead of the one of many local media outlets in town. This reminded me of something I wrote back in 2009, when Oprah announced she was leaving her show. Not only she snubbed the local press (which she increasingly did in the show’s later years), but also Chicago’s African-American community – a point noted several years ago when she did not attend the funeral of Ebony founder John H. Johnson, of Chicago-based Johnson Publishing.

While Winfrey thanked Chicago for all the city has done, it seemed to be in jest.

Since Oprah ended, the studio was only able to produce one show – 2012’s short-lived The Rosie Show.

With the departure of Harpo, Chicago’s film and TV industry is at a crossroads. There are now only a handful of projects shot here: two syndicated shows and three prime-time programs, including Empire, the hottest show on TV. With the state of Illinois in financial crisis and now under leadership of Governor Bruce Rauner, you can forget about tax credits to attract more productions. And while Winfrey is shifting her business to L.A., keep in mind the Atlanta area has surpassed Chicago by a mile in terms of the active number of TV and film production projects.

But give Winfrey credit. At least she decided to move on and create a new business and life for herself instead of hanging around a bunch of aging radio personalities in a market that’s become the world’s largest retirement home for talent.