Tag Archives: Television

Goodbye Oprah, and Thank You Talk Show Pioneer Phil Donahue

Of course, today and much of the past week (in the broadcast TV world anyway) have been all about Oprah Winfrey‘s extended farewell. As well they should have been. Whether or not you liked her style or resonated with her messages, Oprah has no doubt deeply influenced and touched countless people in numerous ways.

This is a nice tribute, Why Did Oprah Matter?, from Ken Tucker at ew.com. Another nice piece, Five Reasons Oprah’s Last Show Should Matter to You, appears in the Dallas Morning News from Michael Landauer.

But enough about Oprah.

In all the hoopla, I can’t help but think back to Phil Donahue, whose very thoughtful talk show I watched often. It is Donahue who pioneered the act of entering the studio audience and was often seen running up and down the stairs of his set, microphone in hand and white hair flopping, to record the impressions of a guest.

The Phil Donahue Show (later – in a nod to the times? – simply Donahue) ran an incredible 26 years nationally, from 1970-1996 (one year longer than Oprah), and three years locally in Dayton, OH, before that. He took on most of the political, cultural and philosophical issues of the times – civil rights, gay rights, consumer rights, religion, abortion, war, even holocaust denial  – and didn’t shy from (indeed perhaps stoked) controversy and passionate conversation. He also did lighter, but no less educational, shows such as one in which he introduced many viewers to break dancing and rap.

My friend, Bay Area writer and cultural observer Barbara Tannenbaum, shared this:

I think Phil Donahue was one of several major factors helping the country with gay visibility/ cultural change. When Bill Maher said it was television, not politicians, who were behind this paradigm shift, I instantly thought of Donahue….and Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas (less so, but must tip my hat to my Mom!)

Donahue was on the air during the worst part of the AIDS epidemic in the mid to late 80s. Again, a forum for our Moms to meet gay men fighting AIDS, making that conversation much easier for parents. My mom comforted a lady in the dressing room of Nordstrom’s about discussing her gay son’s diagnosis with her husband. Her inspiration was not me, but Phil Donahue!!

Even Oprah Winfrey acknowledges, “”If it weren’t for Phil Donahue, there would never have been an Oprah Show.”

Here’s Phil Donahue interviewing writer Ayn Rand, about whom he said, in his introduction, “You mention this woman’s name and you’re in for a very vigorous conversation.” That short phrase sums up much of Phil Donahue’s talent and appeal, in addition to an element we could use much more of on television and in the greater culture and discourse.

Farewell Oprah and thank you Phil!

Photos: AP/Paul Beaty, Doug Ross

Slow News: Nickelodeon Networks to Go Dark to Encourage Play. First Lady to Pull Plug

It’s rare for a TV station to opt to go completely dark in the middle of a day, but that’s exactly what children’s network Nickelodeon, its sister networks Nicktoons, Nick Jr. and TeenNick, and its affiliated websites are going to do for three hours tomorrow in an effort to encourage children to go out and play.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has done a lot of work to fight childhood obesity and encourage kids to play outside with her Let’s Move campaign, is going to symbolically pull the plug on the station at Noon, Eastern Time and Pacific Time.

The event marks the 7th Worldwide Day of Play, an effort begun in 2004 by Nickelodeon. Last year this announcement appeared on participating TV stations for 3 hours:

Today is Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play! Turn off your TV, shut down your computer, put down that cell phone-yes, YOU! and go ALL OUT! We’ll see you back here at 3!

It’s a great message and it’s terrific that it comes from a TV station, for whom time is definitely money.

Saturday, September 25, also marks Nature Rocks Day, and National Public Lands Day (U.S.). The entire week is Take a Child Outside Week. So if you’re looking for an organized activity or a way to help your public lands, one is available. If you just want to get outside and have fun, here’s hoping you have a pretty early Fall day during which to do that!

Photo: Evan Vucci, AP, Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like: Slow News: New White House Programs Support Children’s Nutrition & Play