After Wednesday, Oprah Winfrey's 25-year-old talk show is no more. An almost religious weekday ritual for more than 6 million Americans will come to an end.
Nowhere will the collective wail be louder than in the Twin Cities, where Oprah has consistently been No. 1 by a wide margin, even when "Judge Judy" beat her out nationally.
For the hardcore Oprah fans who never miss a show, 4 p.m. shall henceforth be known as unhappy hour -- for a while, anyway.
Oprah's recently launched cable network, OWN, might keep some of her 127,000 Twin Cities devotees from feeling like they're going cold turkey after the finale airs. But it's no replacement for their daily hour with an icon, say some of those contemplating the looming void.
"The show is over; this is a big deal," said IT consultant Deb Skolos, 40. "No one can replace her; it would be silly to try. But I did get panicked and upgraded my cable to include OWN. I heard she might do some prime-time specials."
Skolos is recording the final show and having several friends over that evening.
They'll toast with pomegranate martinis and Moscow Mules, "Oprah's favorite drink from when she and Gayle went camping. I hope I can find her favorite tequila," she said.
Skolos, who also loves Bob Dylan, isn't crazy, and she has a life. Oprah just has this effect on a lot of her fans, many of whom express sincere gratitude to her for positively affecting their lives in an affectionate, trusting tone usually reserved for close friends. When Oprah first appears on stage before her live audience, some have been known to burst spontaneously into tears.
Oprah inspires that kind of emotion, Skolos said, "because she's been so honest about her own struggles -- with her weight, with being raped as a child. She's always challenging herself. And of course, everything she touches turns to gold."
Jody Ross, who leads "laughing yoga" groups, was inspired by Oprah to pursue treatment for an eating disorder back when no one else was talking about them, when Ross was in college. She later wrote a popular blog for oprah.com.
"She's taken a lot of static for being too New Agey, but she always gets the conversation going, no matter what it's about," she said. "It's the constancy of her always being there I'm really going to miss."
Shira Granote, 28, has been watching Oprah since she was in middle school, even writing her ACT essay on Winfrey: "She impressed on me that no matter what you look like, you have worth, and that really had a profound effect on me at that age."
Erin Rasmussen, a broadcast producer and filmmaker, considers Oprah her mentor from afar. To her, Oprah fans are "people who are interested in looking at their lives and growing. That's the litmus."
Robin McCormick thinks Oprah taught women that everyone has options. "I used to sit watching the show and think how different my mother's life could have been had she known that," she said.
McCormick, who ran a day care out of her Linden Hills home for 15 years, used to watch Oprah every afternoon while her charges were napping. She was such a fan that several parents chipped in to send her to an "Oprah" taping as a present.
But she hasn't watched the show for several years. "I cut the umbilical cord back in 2000," she said, not because she's no longer a fan, but because she took Oprah's advice and exercised a new option. She now runs a vacation rental business that keeps her too busy to watch daytime TV.
"The shows got more entertainment-focused and less interesting to me," she said. "Or maybe I just didn't need her anymore."
As recently as four years ago, Oprah's typical viewer was white, middle-aged, middle-class and 55 or older. Why has she resonated so much with this group?
Former Fox 9 news anchor Robyne Robinson has an idea. "I'm not a fan of her kind of talk show, the put your head on Mama's chest and tell me all about it kind of TV psychoanalysis," said Robinson, who knows something, on a smaller scale, about being a prominent African-American face in a primarily white community. "But Oprah evolved into someone who served a real purpose, putting real vigilance into causes like child molestation and the hang-up-your-cellphone safety campaign. Her role is not necessarily to entertain, but to tell people things that fall outside their comfort zones, to break barriers and get people to understand that we're all alike, we just need to reach out to each other more. Any woman of color that can make people feel that their lives aren't so different, right on for her."
Though Oprah has fans across a spectrum of ages, her appeal is partly generational. When Ross asked a group of teen girls who they'd rather listen to, Oprah or the star sliding into her time slot, Ellen DeGeneres, they chorused "Ellen!" -- which should be music to the ears of CBS affiliates like WCCO.
But no one can fill Oprah's Ugg Classic Crochet Tall Boots (favorite thing list, 2007).
Ross said that, eventually, she's "pretty sure I will tune in to whatever is on at that time. I'm just not ready to do it yet."