TELEVISION / The Oprah circus

OPRAH Winfrey has had the sort of life that a scriptwriter could pitch to a big-shot mini-series producer. The treatment might run something like this:

'Part One: Born into poverty in segregated Mississippi, Oprah is raped at nine and in a detention centre at 13. Part Two: By good old-fashioned, down-home toil, Oprah works her way up through local radio to a syndicated chat show. Part Three: Within ten years, Oprah is the highest paid female performer in the US, earning a reported dollars 60m a year. To be continued.'

Despite such an improbable rags to riches story, Winfrey is still seen as 'one of us' by her viewers. She may be on first name terms with Bill Clinton but, hey, she's still addicted to junk food. She shares her fans' anguish about being overweight and finding 'Mr Right', she cries with them over child sexual abuse. She's 'been there', as the psychobabble beloved of her show would have it. Americans love nothing better than someone extraordinarily ordinary. Appearing 220 weekday mornings a year, Oprah has become the country's most famous next-door neighbour.

Yesterday's Oprah Winfrey Show (C4) carried the archetypal subtitle: 'My Wife Ignores Me'. An assortment of good ol' boys complained about being booted out of the marital bed for years on end, while the audience - which consisted principally of blue rinses and blow dries - whooped and whistled its approval like a hen party at a Chippendales concert.

They particularly relished the moment where a wife thanked Oprah for prompting her to sleep with her husband for the first time in four years. And a husband who pouted about feeling neglected elicited the biggest 'aaahs' this side of the Andrex doggie ad.

Such revelations can only emerge in the relaxed atmosphere Winfrey works so hard to create. It is seen at its most effective on Adult Oprah, currently showing late-night on Saturdays. Here the Oprah opiate lulls people into exposing their sexiest secrets (tomorrow night's is entitled 'My Mother Married My Husband').

Oprah's British equivalents, Kilroy and The Time The Place, look very stiff by comparison. Maybe it's just the culture gap; after all, can you imagine Kilroy: The Mini-Series?

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