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Hello Oprah – An Elder Advocate's Appeal

The last time Oprah Winfrey was mentioned in these pages was the occasion of the launch of her magazine O in 2005. With the exception of single, short paragraphs from Maya Angelou and Linda Ellerbee who had some wise words about growing old, the 320 pages of that first issue overflowed with stories and advertisements promoting youth and beauty reinforcing, as I wrote in 2005, “our ageist culture’s demand to put a bag over our heads when the first wrinkle appears.”

Nothing has changed in the intervening years. In under two minutes on the website, I collected the following headlines and phrases:

  • Reverse the aging process

  • Turn back time

  • Fighting the major agers

  • How to be 10 years younger

  • How antioxidents stop the aging process (emphasis added)

  • How to turn back time

  • Dr. Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen are back with more from their book YOU: Staying Young. Dr. Oz has said it's within your power to now find out how to do it!

For years, those two physicians have been regulars on Oprah's television show promoting youth as the gold standard of life, and Oprah herself is the poster girl for ageism; her advocacy of all things anti-aging translates directly into disrespect for elders.

Oprah's is a powerful voice for whatever she decides to publicize. Her television program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, is one of the most popular on television, regularly appearing in the No. 4 position of highest-rated syndicated shows. When Oprah speaks, millions listen – for better or for worse. For elders, it is worse.

Geriatrician Bill Thomas, on the other hand, is the best thing to happen to elders in years. He created the Eden Alternative which, since 1991, has labored to improve the culture and environment of long-term care facilities worldwide. The Green House Project he developed is creating group homes for elders that radically change the institutional care of the past by emphasizing the dignity and emotional well-being of residents.

Dr. Thomas's extraordinary book, What Are Old People For? has been one of my top two reference bibles for this blog since it was published in 2004. (Oprah should recommend it to her book club.) And somehow in his busy schedule, he finds time to blog almost every day on elder issues at Changing Aging.

Now, Dr. Thomas has created an open-letter video to Oprah Winfrey titled Hello Oprah in which he makes a personal appeal to the talk-show host to give elders equal camera time with youth. Take a look: [2:45 minutes]

It is true, what Dr. Thomas says, that television producers think elder topics are a ratings killer and – having been a television producer myself for many years – I know they are slow to keep up with trends outside the boundaries of their target audience.

So they apparently haven't noticed that the population is rapidly aging, that the number of young people are decreasing in proportion to the number of elders. And that younger people spend more time with their computers, iPhones and MySpace than with television, while elders in large numbers stick with TV.

Oprah's television audience is primarily female and older than 55. According to Quantcast, her online readership at is mainly older women too. Yet what Oprah's television show offers this audience is a demeaning, prejudicial view of aging, urging them repeatedly to do everything possible to deny their age.

Oprah's influence is vast. Her recommendations sell millions of books and her endorsement of candidate Barack Obama last year was as big an event as the candidacy itself. Imagine, then, if Oprah – who at 55 is on the cusp of elderhood herself - paid less attention to looking young forever and adopted a positive attitude toward aging and elders. The impact would be huge and go a long way toward changing the attitude of the culture at large. Oprah Winfrey is that powerful.

But first we need to persuade Oprah and every one of you reading this post can help Dr. Thomas get her attention. Here's how:

  • If you have a blog, post Dr. Thomas's video, make your own appeal to Oprah to listen to him and urge your readers to do so too.

  • If you don't have a blog, watch the video at YouTube to boost the viewer numbers.

  • Get your friends, neighbors and relatives to watch the video at YouTube.

  • Flood Oprah's show producers with email including a link to Dr. Thomas's YouTube video and request that he appear on her program. You can email them here.

  • Include young relatives and friends in all the above too. When elders are respected, people of all ages benefit.

When you have posted a story and the video on your blog, send me a link to it (use the Contact link on the top left of this page) and I will list your links on the Saturday Elder News post.

If enough of us do these things and keep up the pressure, Oprah's producers will notice. This is our chance to help make a difference on a big scale in how elders are perceived. And we can have no better advocate than Dr. Bill Thomas.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson offers a poem for Death of a Marriage.


I have submitted my letter to the producers of Oprah. Although I never watch her show now I would do so if she put Dr. Thomas on.

I saw a video clip of Dr. Thomas giving a speech and I know he would not only be informative, but entertaining as well. I hope the producers pay attention and that all Elders write them.

Oprah has been off my list for years. I don’t watch her program, read any of her recommended books, etc., for the very reasons in your blog today. I cannot understand how someone who has achieved so much fame and fortune has the need to keep reaching for something other rather than accepting what is. And those dr’s-------- oh please………
My letter will be on its way!

Great piece, we'll write.

I've given up Oprah too, for exactly those reasons. Her magazine is the same, pages crammed with 20 year old WHITE models for crying out loud. I felt so sorry for when she did her big confession that she fell off the food wagon and was getting fat again. She's beautiful as she is, I don't think she knows it. It is television though. It's sad. Anyway I will write.

My suggestion is for you (Ronni) and Dr. write to the producers and ask to be on the show as guests.

I watch Oprah occassionally and while I know that there is a mixed sentiment these days, I do remember the good things she has done. As for the book endorsements, she did get folks reading new authors as well as brief sojourn into the classics. I miss the book club and realize that without its influence our publishing world shrinks that much more. Some of the choices were very good.

As to the youth market - I come from the school of thought that if you don't agree - agree to disagree with her and don't watch. In TV world, little changes as long as she can draw in the advertising.

I don't think she expected the backlash or drop in ratings when she endorsed President Obama (at the time Senator Obama)yet in this case, I think it was the first time she did a public endorsement and fund raiser as this one and at this point, in her career, missteps or moving forward - she has earned the right to do with her show as she will. Sadly, this does not agree with what we as "elders" want or need but perhaps, it opens the door for Oprah to consider this as a new format or for someone else to step up to the plate.


My letter has gone out to Oprah and I have asked her to consider having you and Dr. Bill Thomas as guests on her show.

The tape Dr. Thomas made was informative and truthful. I especially liked it when he said that aging is NOT decline or full of Doom and Gloom. I hope Oprah looks at it and understands that you and Dr Thomas are not critisizing her but offering suggestions and reminding her who her audience is.

People still watch Oprah? Huh.

Ageism, the social, legal, and realities of age prejudices and ways to move beyond these barriers, will be its own panel topic, presented by Silver Planet, at the upcoming AARP Diversity & Aging Conference, to be held in Chicago, June 8-10th. Scholarships are available for the conference:

Another homer, Ronni. I suggest you start your own show, inviting all your blog guests to come on down and PROVE to the world, we are not a bunch of toothless clunkers.

I respect Oprah's rise from poverty and abuse to her influence today, but something bothers me when so many people idolize celebrities to the detriment of living their own proud life.

What if we all stood back and realized the hero lies inside ourselves?

"Stand, in the end you'll still be you..."

"One that's done all the things you set out to do."

(Sly and the Family Stone)

I will also write to Oprah.

Dr. Thomas is a very adroit appeal to all people in the position of influencing media. I do hope it receives wide viewing.

Even when I am home and it's time for the Oprah show I don't put it on. There was a time I would plan to be home in time to catch her show. No more.

I sent an e-mail to Oprah re: Dr. Thomas. Hope she gets the message that there are people out there that are older than 30!

Good idea - a show with you and Dr. Thomas!

Sent off my e-mail to Oprah too--hope she's able to hear the message.

I actually have some of her producers names and numbers/emails. I promise to look them up and post them tomorrow or send them to Ronni or both. It could not hurt.

With his youtube video, Dr. Thomas stand a good chance of getting on Oprah except she finishes her season this week.

Also, if any of you have Twitter accounts, you could post a message to her with link to Dr. Thomas on youtube.

Okay, here is what I have for contacts at Harpo Productions. The Executive Producer is a great influence at Harpo (Oprah) so we may want to contact her: Sheri Salata and her email is [email protected]. I got these connections several years ago so am hoping these are still good. (I had tried to get them to do a story on my then company).

I'd love to have you do a follow up and let us know if our efforts were noticed at all. I just posted to my blog and will send you a link.

To paraphrase a popular poem (it's one of my favorites)

I've never seen an Oprah show
I never hope to see one
but if I had to make a choice
I'd rather see than be one

I have written a letter requesting that both you and Dr. Thomas be featured on her show and suggested a series of programs dedicated to promoting elders. Thank you for all the time and work you put into your blog. It is greatly appreciated.

Oprah may or may not listen to our pleas, but--IF she's still on TV in 5 or 10 years (when she's closer to 60), I'll bet she has an awakening. That's when she'll be ready to do whatever she can to change to public perception of aging.

Puleese! I have watched Oprah metaphysically clunk about like a bull in a china shop for years, trying to "heal" her angst and anger.
And today she is still a mess.
Why would ANYONE listen to her? She just runs from one "expert" to another in every field under the sun and she, herself, can't seem to benefit from it.
When she REALLY gets it together, maybe then I'll lister.

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