Oprah Winfrey is leaving Chicago and heading west. She announced to her staff Tuesday that Harpo Studios is closing after 25 years in the Windy City and her studio complex is up for grabs.
Harpo will shutter its doors in December, NBC Chicago reported, but it’s not a huge surprise. The studio has been in decline for a few years, so Oprah’s reportedly tearful announcement that it’s closing was expected, one anonymous employee told the Chicago Tribune.
“It was kind of surreal for a lot of people. We all knew it was coming, but we were holding out hope that there would be a smaller crew remaining here, but that’s not going to be the case moving forward.”
The end of the Harpo era began about 2012, when Winfrey’s OWN Network launched The Rosie Show, which no one watched and was cancelled only five months later, the Tribune explained. The show was filmed in Chicago and when Harpo nixed it, staff were let go and the studio began to wane.
But Harpo staffers haven’t been sitting on their hands, waiting for the studio to close. They’ve been doing production work for various OWN shows: Super Soul Sunday, Oprah’s Master Class, Oprah: Where Are They Now, Oprah Prime and Iyanla: Fix My Life. For now, that’ll continue – but not for long. Soon enough, production at Harpo will transition to OWN.
Naturally, after Oprah’s announcement that Harpo is closing, the rumors swirled about what will become of OWN. Page Six reported speculation that Winfrey is building a studio at her home in Maui, and eventually she’ll run the company from her island palace. Insiders have quashed that possibility.
The actual plans post-Harpo are much less scandalous. Oprah will apparently move production to Los Angeles, four years behind OWN, which moved there in 2011 when her show finished up. Work at Harpo Studios will dwindle down as it gets closer to closing.
And that has some in Chicago a bit worried about the loss of the “Oprah effect.” Harpo revived the West Loop, attracted tourists, kept its local businesses busy and made the area generally safer, one developer told the Tribune.
“There’s incredible gratitude for (Winfrey’s) investment and bringing economic opportunity and stability as well.”
And according to the Tribune, many are worried that there won’t be enough TV jobs in Chicago for all the people leaving Harpo after its closing. A couple TV shows are filmed in Chicago, but that’s about it. One Harpo staffer think his former co-workers will be sprinting to the coasts, looking for work.
“There’s going to be a lot of talent on the streets in Chicago. I’m not sure there’s enough open positions to absorb everybody here.”
Harpo’s closing will send 200 employees scrambling for a new job.
[Photo Courtesy Jason Merritt/Getty Images]