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Phil Donahue

Phil Donahue at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007
Born Phillip John Donahue
December 21, 1935 (1935-12-21) (age 74)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Residence Westport, Connecticut, U.S.
Education B.B.A., University of Notre Dame
Occupation Talk show host
Film producer
Years active 1957 – present
Religious beliefs Catholic[1]
Spouse(s) Marge Cooney (1958-1975, divorced, 5 children)
Marlo Thomas (1980-present)

Phillip John "Phil" Donahue (born December 21, 1935) is an Emmy Award-winning American media personality, writer, and film producer, best known as the creator and star of The Phil Donahue Show, also known as Donahue, the first tabloid talk show. The show had a 26-year run on U.S. national TV, preceded by three years of local broadcast in Dayton, Ohio, before ending in 1996.

His shows have generally focused on issues that often divide liberals and conservatives in the United States, such as abortion, consumer protection, civil rights and war protests. His most frequent guest was Ralph Nader and Donahue campaigned for Nader in 2000.[1] Donahue also hosted a talk show on MSNBC from 2002 – 2003.


Personal history

Donahue was born into a middle-class, churchgoing Irish Catholic family in Cleveland, Ohio; his father was a furniture sales clerk and his mother a department store shoe clerk.[2][3] In 1949, he was in the graduating class of Our Lady Of Angels elementary school in the West Park neighborhood. In 1953, Donahue was a member of the first graduating class of St. Edward High School, an all-boys college prep Catholic high school run by the Brothers of Holy Cross in suburban Lakewood, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame, run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, with a B.B.A in 1957. A year later he married his first wife, Marge Cooney, who divorced him in 1975. There were five children from that marriage. He married his second (and present) wife, actress Marlo Thomas (daughter of Danny Thomas), in 1980. They have lived in Westport, Connecticut since 1986.[4]

Donahue does not see himself as "a very good Roman Catholic," given that he did not want to have his first marriage annulled.[1] He has elaborated that he "will always be a Catholic" but that he opposes what he sees as the Church's "antisexual theology".[1] He has also said that he found Madalyn Murray O'Hair's message of atheism "very important." [5]

Early career

Donahue began his career in 1957 as a production assistant at KYW radio and television in Cleveland. He got a chance to become an announcer one day when the regular announcer failed to show up. After a brief stint as a bank check sorter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he became program director for WABJ radio in Adrian, Michigan, soon after graduating. He moved on to become a stringer for the CBS Evening News and later, an anchor of the morning newscast at WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio, where his interviews with Jimmy Hoffa and Billie Sol Estes were picked up nationally. While in Dayton, Donahue also hosted Conversation Piece, a phone-in afternoon talk show from 1963 to 1967 on WHIO radio. There, among others, he interviewed civil rights activists (including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X) and war dissenters.

The Phil Donahue Show / Donahue

On November 6, 1967, Donahue left the WHIO stations and moved his talk program to television with The Phil Donahue Show on WLWD (now WDTN), also in Dayton. Initially, the program was shown only on other stations owned by the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation (which would later take the name of its parent Avco Company), which also owned WLWD. But, in January 1970, The Phil Donahue Show entered nationwide syndication.

After a 29-year run—26 years in syndication—the final original episode of Donahue aired in May 1996, culminating what remains the longest continuous run of any syndicated talk show in U.S. television history.

While hosting his own program, Donahue also appeared on NBC's The Today Show as a contributor, from 1980 until 1982. From 1991 to 1994 he also co-hosted Pozner/Donahue, a weekly, issues-oriented roundtable program with Soviet journalist Vladimir Posner, which aired both on CNBC and in syndication.[1]

MSNBC program

In July 2002, Phil Donahue returned to television to host a show called Donahue on MSNBC. On February 25, 2003, MSNBC canceled the show, citing low viewership. According to the New York Times despite being heavily promoted by MSNBC and having a debuting audience of 660,000 only three weeks into the show, viewership had fallen to 393,000 viewers.[6]. By then end of 2002, Donahue’s audience was down to 379,000.[7] Although his ratings were less than 1/6th Bill O'Reilly, who shared the same time slot, Donahue was the highest rated show on MSNBC at the time it was canceled, managing to beat out Chris Matthews' "Hardball" in the ratings.[8] Soon after the show's cancellation reported it had received a copy of an internal NBC memo that stated Donahue should be fired because he would be a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war".[8][9]

Film producer

In 2007, Donahue served as Executive Producer for the feature documentary film, Body of War, which he also co-directed with independent filmmaker Ellen Spiro. The film tells the story of Tomas Young, a severely disabled Iraq War veteran and his turbulent postwar adjustments. The film features two new songs, "No More" and "Long Nights" by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. In November 2007 the film was named as one of fifteen documentaries to be in consideration for an Oscar nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[10] Vedder's involvement in the film stems from a meeting the two men had while participating in a Chicago Cubs fantasy camp, according to an interview Donahue did with the Associated Press.


  1. ^ a b c d Questions for Phil Donahue. By David Wallis. The New York Times. Published April 14, 2002.
  2. ^ Timberg, Bernard M. et al. Television Talk, p.69. University of Texas Press, 2002, ISBN 0292781768
  3. ^ Manga, Julie Engel. Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows, p.28. NYU Press, 2003, ISBN 0814756832
  4. ^ Ravo, Nick, "Eyesore or Landmark? The House Donahue Razed", New York Times, July 10, 1988
  5. ^ Phil Donahue. (2006). Godless in America. [Documentary].  
  6. ^ Woes of 'Donahue' Cast Shadow Over MSNBC
  7. ^ Bruce Kluger. Why do mean-spirited TV shows lure Americans? USA Today. January 29, 2003
  8. ^ a b The Surrender Of
  9. ^ Media Matters - Phil Donahue on his 2003 MSNBC firing: "We had to have two conservatives on for every liberal. I was counted as two liberals."
  10. ^ Melidonian, Teni. 15 Docs Move Ahead in 2007 Oscar Race Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences official website. 2007-11-19. Retrieved on 2007-12-3.

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