How Phil Donahue Invented Daytime Talk Show TV

By | December 19, 2020

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Phil Donahue on the air in 1982. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

In 1967, The Phil Donahue Show premiered on a local Dayton, Ohio, television channel and for the next 20 plus years the talk show introduced audiences to a ton of cultural issues, both controversial and heartwarming, from mild to wild. Donahue himself wasn't exactly a mystery, but the series was never about him, audiences never got to know the enigma that was Phil, the guy from the Buckeye State.

Daytime talk shows were all the rage in the '80s and '90s, but Donahue showed them all how do it. Oprah, Ricki Lake, Sally Jessy Raphael, Jenny Jones, even Maury Povich and Jerry Springer learned how to do their thing thanks to Donahue. He not only set the template for the shows that followed, but he changed the television landscape forever.

Donahue didn't know he wanted to be on TV

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source: NBC Universal

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1935, Phil Donahue had a fairly normal upbringing. His father sold furniture and his mother was a department store shoe clerk - he never had a plan to be a broadcaster. While attending the University of Notre Dame he studied Business Administration, but his real education began in 1957.

That year, he took a job as a production assistant at the local KYW radio and television station. He got coffee, cleaned up, and spent his time working as a gopher until one day when the station's regular announcer failed to arrive. Donahue was given his first taste of working the mic. He moved on from KYW to work in New Mexico, Michigan, and WHIO-TV in Ohio where he interviewed heavy hitters like Jimmy Hoffa and Malcolm X.