Phil Donahue biography
Born on December 21, 1935, in Ohio, Phil Donahue introduced the world to the modern talk show. He started at a radio station, with a show that was geared towards women. His show, aptly named The Phil Donahue Show, ran from 1967 to 1996 and promoted a more progressive view of politics, economics and women on television that hadn't been seen before. He followed with a strig of hosting gigs and left a legacy as a talk show host that has affected several prominent figures in the industry, including Sally Jesse Raphael and Oprah Winfrey.
Talk show host Phillip John Donahue was born on December 21, 1935, in Cleveland, Ohio. His father, Phillip, was a furniture salesman, and his mother, Catherine, worked as a shoe clerk. He attended the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where he graduated in 1957.
Upon graduation, Donahue got a job at KYW radio in Cleveland, Ohio as a production assistant. He moved to the position of an announcer after the usual announcer didn't show up for work. At WHIO in Dayton, he became a newscaster, and also started his first radio talk show called Conversation Piece in 1963. The program ran for four years until he left WHIO in 1967 and joined a rival station, WLWD-TV.
'The Phil Donahue Show'
At WLWD-TV, Donahue tried out a new format for television, with his talk show, The Phil Donahue Show, aiming their content at "women who think." His idea was to involve the audience, and have them interact in person, or via telephone, with his guests. His first guest, an atheist named Madalyn Murray O'Hair, in conjunction with topics that attempted to be substantive, relevant, informative and somewhat controversially progressive, quickly made ratings for the landmark show skyrocket.
The show's popularity led to it being nationally syndicated in 1972, before gaining more momentum and being broadcast at WGN in Chicago two years later. His devotion to addressing the taboo issues of the time, particularly women's issues, paved the way for other talk show hosts such as Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jesse Raphael and Oprah Winfrey—the latter, having also started her broadcast talk show in Chicago, paid homage specifically to the pioneering talk show host, saying "if there hadn't been a Phil, there wouldn't have been a me."
Unfortunately, the same talk show hosts that he inspired were the ones that brought about his downfall on the airwaves. After having won his first of nine Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host in 1977, he approached an era of television that didn't find his topics as compelling as they had been in the past. In the early '90s, Donahue was beginning to see a decline in ratings, with hosts like Raphael and Winfrey taking the lead instead. It even got to a point where Donahue's divisive commentary kept his programming from airing on certain stations, namely WNBC in New York, the owners of the studio where Donahue—as it was eventually known—was filmed. In 1996, after nearly 30 years on the air, his show ended its run on the air.
This was also the year that he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Emmy.
In July 2002, MSNBC coaxed the silver-haired host out of retirement to helm the much-hyped return of Donahue. However, eight months later, poor viewership caused the ratings-challenged cable network to cancel the show. He continued to stay out of the spotlight until 2007, when he produced and directed the documentary Body of War. Three years later, he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show alongside other popular hosts such as Rivera, Raphael, Montel Williams and Ricki Lake.
With his intelligent, informative daytime talk show style, Donahue's influence is more noticeable with every bold talk show that hits the airwaves. His way of asking the probing questions, his limitless curiosity and trademark enthusiastic bounding up and down the aisles of his studio in order to get as many audience comments as possible, is legendary.
Donahue has five children with first wife Margaret Cooney: four sons, Michael, Kevin, Daniel, Jim, and one daughter, Mary Rose. He met second wife, actress Marlo Thomas, when she was a guest on his show; they married in 1980.