8″ x 10″ Signed in 1996 through the mail
With his glasses, white mop of hair, slight lisp, and amiable personality, Phil Donahue revolutionized the American daytime talk show and rode his popularity and growing legendary status for more than 6,000 shows over 29 years. 5Donahue was 22 when, just months after his graduation from Notre Dame, he became an announcer on KYW-Radio in Cleveland, OH. Moving to other points in the Midwest, Donahue rose from announcer to newscaster at WHIO in Dayton, OH, a town in which he also had a radio talk show called “Conversation Piece”. In 1967, he left WHIO and joined rival WLWD hosting a daytime talk show with a formula never tried before. Whereas most other daytime talk shows featured light interviews, a chatty host, and cooking and exercise segments all geared for the homemaker/mother, Donahue’s show was to be for “women who think” and would bring the audience into the process. Each show would have a guest discussing a substantive subject and Donahue, his studio audience, and call-in viewers would ask questions. The first show in 1967 featured atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare. Word began to spread and other stations, still mostly in the Midwest, began to pick up Donahue’s show, where the topics ranged from current events to homosexuality to marriages in crisis. By 1974, the show had moved to Chicago, been retitled “Donahue” and was now syndicated nationwide. The era of talk shows centering around the likes of Mike Douglas featuring celebrities was waning. Donahue’s popularity increased so rapidly in the 70s, that, by the end of the decade, he was seen on more than 200 stations nationwide. He was also hired by NBC to provide eight-minute segments similar to his daytime show for the “Today” morning show. Donahue was earning more than $1 million per year, unheard of for daytime performers, and published a best-selling autobiography. 5In 1982, Donahue ended his relationship with “Today” and signed an unprecedented eight-year contract with Multimedia to syndicate his show. Three years later, Donahue relocated to New York, the home base of his wife, actor-producer Marlo Thomas. He continued as the ratings champ until 1988, when he was overtaken by Oprah Winfrey.
Branching into other arenas, he hosted “Phil Donahue Examines the Human Animal” (NBC, 1986) and participated in “Just One Step: The Great Peace March”, a 1988 documentary. From 1991 to 1994, Donahue joined with Vladimir Pozner, former information chief of the Soviet Union to co-host an issues-oriented show for the cable network CNBC. Donahue, who had been a single father raising several sons, has been identified with many progressive causes yet has retained his All-American, Midwestern aura of values. He had been itching to expand into commentator and reporter of American politics and world issues. While Donahue once appeared in a dress on his show, he resisted the move toward sensationalism that preoccupied the other talk shows of the 90s. Even when Donahue had gossip- oriented material — such as a show featuring actress Roseanne’s estranged family — he and the audience asked thoughtful, probing questions; they did not hoot, holler and judge. Yet, audience tastes were changing. Donahue’s station line-up slipped below 200, then below 150. He lost his Los Angeles outlet and was on the verge of losing his New York station when he announced he would cease production of “Donahue” in May 1996. Yet, even in the waning days of the show, his style did not change. Shows would begin with a probing statement, or with Donahue sitting on stage across a table from his guests. And even at age 60, older and a bit paunchier than in 1967, he could be seen charging up the aisles of his TV studio, microphone in hand, to give his audience a chance to ask their questions.