The Phil Donahue Show

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The Phil Donahue Show
Created byPhil Donahue
Presented byPhil Donahue
Theme music composerDon Grady[1]
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes5,515
Production locationsDayton, Ohio (1967–1974)
Chicago, Illinois (1974–1985)
New York City (1985–1996)
Running time60 minutes
Production companiesAvco Program Sales
(seasons 1–6, 1970–1976)
Multimedia Entertainment
(seasons 7–26, 1976–1996)
DistributorAvco Program Sales
(seasons 1–6, 1970–1976)
Multimedia Entertainment
(seasons 7–26, 1976–1996)
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original networkWLWD (1967–1970)
First-run syndication (1970–1996)
Original releaseNovember 6, 1967 (1967-11-06) –
September 13, 1996 (1996-09-13)

The Phil Donahue Show, also known as Donahue, is an American television talk show hosted by Phil Donahue that ran for 26 years on national television. Its run was preceded by three years of local broadcast on WLWD in Dayton, Ohio, and it was broadcast nationwide between 1970 and 1996.

In 2002, Donahue was ranked 29th on TV Guide magazine's list of the 50 greatest television shows of all-time.[2]


In 1967, Phil Donahue left his positions as news reporter and interviewer at WHIO radio and television in Dayton to go into sales. He found he did not like it and took a position as newsman at another Dayton station WLWD (now WDTN). When the station’s Johnny Gilbert Show ended, the station kept the studio audience and Donahue became the creator and host of a new television program, Phil Donahue Show on WLWD (now WDTN), also in Dayton. His new program replaced The Johnny Gilbert Show, when Gilbert left on short notice for a hosting job in New York City. On November 6, 1967, Donahue hosted his first guest, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair.[3][4] Though he would later call her message of atheism "very important", he also stated she was rather unpleasant and that, off-camera, she mocked him for being Catholic.[5]

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, on September 14, 1970, The 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, as a program featured breakdancing for the first time on national television, accompanied by a performance from the hip hop group UTFO. In 1985, Donahue left Chicago for New York City and began recording in Studio 8-G at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the home of his New York affiliate WNBC-TV. 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 25th anniversary of his long-running television program with an NBC special produced at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, in which he was lauded by his talk-show peers. However, in many corners, he was seen as having been bypassed both by Oprah Winfrey, whose hugely successful national show was based in Donahue's former Chicago home base; and Sally Jessy Raphael, whose talk show was distributed by Donahue's syndicator, Multimedia.

The end of Donahue[edit]

The talk show field became increasingly saturated as the 1990s progressed. Many of these shows took an increasingly tabloid bent. Donahue shied away from this trend, continuing to take a "high-road" approach. These factors led to a marked decline in ratings. The show also lost support after Donahue expressed his feelings regarding the first Gulf War. In the fall of 1995, ABC-owned KGO-TV in San Francisco dropped Donahue after carrying it for several years. Weeks later, New York's WNBC-TV also canceled it after airing it since 1977.[6] Donahue was also evicted from its Rockefeller Plaza home, and relocated to new studios in Manhattan. Donahue was unable to find new outlets in the nation's largest and eighth-largest markets, and its ratings never recovered. Most stations either began dropping Donahue or moving it to late-night and early-morning time slots, causing a further loss of viewers.

After 29 years (26 of which in syndication) and nearly 7,000 shows, the final episode aired on September 13, 1996, culminating in what continues to be the longest continuous run of any syndicated talk show in U.S. television history.

International success[edit]

Donahue was also broadcast in the United Kingdom on the ITV Night Time line up in the late 1980s and early '90s, where it became cult viewing. After its success, Donahue made several shows in Britain featuring some well-known celebrities from the country as guests, recorded mostly in London but notably one programme recorded in Manchester, which had several members of the cast from the American sitcom Cheers and the Manchester-based soap opera Coronation Street. Thames Television also broadcast a number of episodes during daytime for the London area only.

It was also broadcast in Australia, first on WIN-4 in Wollongong and then nationwide on the Seven Network.


  1. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (2019-01-09). "Heldenfels' Mailbag: Questions on 'My Three Sons,' Abbott and Costello, 'Mentalist'". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  2. ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows". Retrieved 2018-06-15.
  3. ^ "Phil Donahue Dawns on Daytime". Retrieved 2018-06-15.
  4. ^ Handbook of Texas Online: Madalyn Murray O'Hair (Note: this article mentioned that Donahue's show started in 1963, with Madalyn as guest.)
  5. ^ Phil Donahue (2006). Godless in America (Documentary).
  6. ^ Ny Station Removes ‘Donahue’; August 18, 1995; The Spokesman-Review

External links[edit]