Oprah does 'favorite things' on the cheap, even with freebies

Oprah's "Favorite Things" episode is one of the best tickets in town every year. The lucky members of the studio audience usually walk away with some very expensive gifts as the host talks up things to buy on the show. Last year it was a $3,800 HDTV refrigerator. This year? Coal. Or maybe, hugs?

Well, not exactly. A leak about the highly secretive show, which airs next Wednesday on the day before Thanksgiving, has made it to Perez Hilton, who reports that one audience member was sorely disappointed by the price tag of her swag. The Oprah Blog confirms that the gift list will be toned down this year, and that some of the gifts will even be free.

Is it because Oprah can't afford huge things this year? Hardly. Even though one of her spin-off magazines, O at Home, has folded, she's still doing quite well, thank you very much. And if there was room in Obama's new cabinet for a talk show host, she'd surely have a position in the new government. Her profile has probably never been higher.

But the people in Oprah's audience, and the core of the people who make her so popular all over the country, can't afford things like a $3,800 refrigerator. They never really could. Who buys such things? The key is, us regular folks can't even afford to aspire to buy those kinds of things right now. That's why luxury retailers are going down the tubes. They can't even get people in the door to browse anymore, and therefore aren't making money even on casual purchases or accessories.

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Oprahs Empire

    Oprah Winfrey expands her mammoth media presence with a deal to turn the Discovery Health Channel into her very own network, OWN (for The Oprah Winfrey Network). Winfrey and Discovery chief exec David Zaslav made the announcement, Jan. 15.

    AP / Harpo Productions

    Winfrey will be chairwoman of the network, which she envisions will entertain and inform her loyal fan base "24 hours a day on a platform that goes on forever." OWN launches in 2009. This is of course only the latest addition to Winfrey's media empire.

    PRNewsFoto / AP

    Television: 'The Oprah Winfrey Show,' which went national in 1986, helped pioneer the tabloid talk show, but by the 1990s, Winfrey dropped the format in lieu of more serious issues.

    George Burns, Harpo Studios / AP

    Magazines: Besides co-writing five books herself, Oprah has published her own magazine, O, which was called the most successful startup in the industry by FORTUNE Magazine in 2002.

    O Magazine

    Radio: The talk host expanded her reach to satellite radio in early 2006 when she announced a $55 million deal to start her own channel on XM, called Oprah & Friends. Here, Winfrey is seen with XM CEO, Hugh Panero.

    Nasdaq / AP

    Books: In 1996, Winfrey began her own book club, aptly titled Oprah's Book Club. Since then, her recommendations automatically top the best-seller lists. One of her picks for 2007, Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road,' is seen above.

    George Burns, Harpo Productions / AP

    Theater: Winfrey brought 'The Color Purple' to Broadway in 2005 as the show's producer. She was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Sofia in the 1985 film version.

    Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

    The engine car that keeps the Oprah train chugging along is her production company, Harpo, located in Chicago.

    Walter McBride, Retna

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