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The Phil Donahue Show / Donahue
Format Talk show
Starring Phil Donahue
Country of origin  United States
Running time 60 minutes
Original channel WLWD (1967-1970)
first-run syndication (1970-1996)
Original run November 6, 1967 – May 2, 1996

The Phil Donahue Show, also known as Donahue, was a television talk show. The show had a 26-year run on national (U.S.) television, preceded by three years of local broadcast in Dayton, Ohio, before ending in 1996.



In 1967, Donahue left WHIO radio and television in Dayton and became the host of a new television program, The Phil Donahue Show on WLWD (now WDTN), also in Dayton; his show replaced The Johnny Gilbert Show, when Gilbert left on short notice for Los Angeles for a hosting job. On November 6, 1967, Donahue hosted his first guest, known atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair,[1][2] of whom he would later call her message of atheism "very important." [3]

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 1972, The Phil Donahue Show entered nationwide syndication.

Donahue relocated the show's home base to Chicago in 1974, first housing it at then-independent station WGN-TV. Around this time the show's popularity increased, and in the process it became a national phenomenon. When the Avco Company divested their broadcasting properties in 1976, Multimedia Inc. assumed production and syndication of the program, which was now known as simply Donahue. In 1982, Donahue moved the show to CBS-owned WBBM-TV for its final years based in Chicago and the Midwest.

In 1984, Donahue introduced many viewers to hip-hop culture for the first time, as a program featured breakdancing for the first time on national television, accompanied by a performance from the rap group UTFO. In 1985, Donahue moved the program's operations to New York City, housing them in NBC's Rockefeller Plaza building. Prior to the move, a month-long series of commercials heralded the move, and NBC's late-night talk host David Letterman would use portions of his national program counting down the days to Donahue's move with a huge calendar in his studio. One of the most talked-about incidents in Donahue's history came on January 21, 1985, soon after the show moved to New York. On this day's program, seven members of the audience appeared to faint during the broadcast, which was seen live in New York. Donahue, fearing the fainting was caused by both anxiety at being on television and an overheated studio, eventually cleared the studio of audience members and then resumed the show. It turned out the fainting "spell" was cooked up by media hoaxer Alan Abel in what Abel said was a protest against what he termed as poor-quality television.

In 1992, Donahue celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his local and national program with a NBC special produced at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, in which he was lauded by his talk-show peers. Ironically, in many corners, he was seen as having been bypassed both by Oprah Winfrey, whose own hugely successful national show was based in Donahue's former Chicago home base; and Sally Jessy Raphael, whose own talk show was distributed by Donahue's syndicator, Multimedia.


The end of Donahue

As the 1990s progressed, the talk show field became saturated, and eventually Donahue and his program became a victim. Ratings steadily declined, leading one station, ABC-owned KGO-TV in San Francisco, to drop the program at the start of the 1995-1996 season after carrying it for several years. Weeks later, New York's WNBC-TV, whose studios housed the program, also canceled it. Donahue was also evicted from its Rockefeller Plaza home, and relocated to new studios in Manhattan. Other stations, such as KTRK-TV in Houston, moved Donahue to a late-night time slot. The program never relocated to another station in either New York or San Francisco, two of the largest U.S. television markets. Donahue ended the series after 29 years, 26 of them 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.

As a result of several acquisitions and mergers since 1996, the Donahue show catalog is now the property of NBC Universal Television.


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