The year was 1989 and the Oprah show was thriving. We were bringing important issues to the forefront of American conversation, covering topics like abuse, infidelity, divorce and family dysfunction.
I had just finished a show about couples who had survived affairs. My guests – a husband, wife and mistress (at the time we considered it a coup to get all three) – agreed to appear together live, on stage.
I remember it vividly: I was standing in the audience holding my microphone, aghast and speechless as the husband (Jerry) announced to his wife (Ann) that his mistress was pregnant. The look on Ann's face leveled me, shook me to my core and changed the course of my talk show life – and ultimately my career – forever.
In that moment, Ann's humiliation was my own. Her eyes watered from the pain of unspeakable public shame. Mine watered for a different reason; I had been the cause of that pain. It was a devastating moment. I thought, Never again. Never again will I put myself in a position to use my stage, my platform, or myself to publicly embarrass or hurt anyone.
So I leaned in and started thinking seriously about the future of my show, as well as my career. I knew I needed to go beyond the accepted standard of simply entertaining and amusing audiences. I told my producers we needed to change the way the game was played; we would use television, and not be used by it. We would go forth with intention and focus on how we could use the medium to do what broadcast pioneer Edward R. Murrow had originally prophesied: "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference."
I believe we did what we set out to accomplish; that we created our best work and offered it to the world. That is the legacy of the Oprah Winfrey Show; what I hope will be remembered by many as a force for good.