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October 20, 2014

10 TV Talk Shows We Wish Hadn't Bit the Dust

by Leonard Jacobs, posted Jan 23rd 2010 10:00AM
And another one bites the dust.

Tyra Banks had long been contemplating ways to forge an Oprah-style media empire well before the debut of her eponymous talk show in 2005. Setting aside her guest shots on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' in the 1990s, Banks decided to establish her TV-Q as a host by successfully launching 'America's Next Top Model' in 2003. That gave her the clout to fashion 'The Tyra Banks Show' -- which she segued to just three months after leaving the runway -- into something that was part tabloid, part tasteful.

Now that Banks has announced she's ending her talk show this season -- she'll be focusing on her production company, Bankable Studios, among other projects -- we formally add 'The Tyra Banks Show' to the pantheon of great talk shows we wish hadn't bit the dust.And another one bites the dust.

Tyra Banks had long been contemplating ways to forge an Oprah-style media empire well before the debut of her eponymous talk show in 2005. Setting aside her guest shots on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' in the 1990s, Banks decided to establish her TV-Q as a host by successfully launching 'America's Next Top Model' in 2003. That gave her the clout to fashion 'The Tyra Banks Show' -- which she segued to just three months after leaving the runway -- into something that was part tabloid, part tasteful.

Now that Banks has announced she's ending her talk show this season -- she'll be focusing on her production company, Bankable Studios, among other projects -- let's give major props to her achievement in TV chat.

Despite offending many people by once wearing a fat suit, Banks' dedication to "girl power" remains totally unrivaled among talk-show hosts. Maybe there were more weaves on her show than in a continuing-education class on how to use a loom, but Banks was fair, smart, probing, dynamic, funny, insightful and plenty more gifted in the personality department than many TV talk-show hosts. So what if we can't get the phrase "five-head" out of our collective psyches? Banks was a great host, and she always kept it real.

As we formally add 'The Tyra Banks Show' to the pantheon of great talk shows, we'd like to look back at 10 we wish hadn't bit the dust.

10. 'The Mike Douglas Show'
With its art-funk setting and constant stream of actors, musicians, politicians and other notables, 'The Mike Douglas Show' personified the swinging '70s in talk. A nightclub singer after World War II, Douglas dove into the talk scene in Cleveland in 1961; his modest, live show went into national syndication two years later. Moving to Philadelphia, 'The Mike Douglas Show' became the in-spot for TV chat, with everyone from Richard Nixon to the Rolling Stones to Barbra Streisand making appearances. In addition to being a superb conversationalist, Douglas revolutionized the concept of the co-host, booking one for each week throughout his many years on the air. His most famous -- and highest rated -- co-hosts were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Retiring from TV in 1982, Douglas died in 2006.

9. 'The Jenny Jones Show'
Though she came off like a prim, proper suburban mom, former actress-comic Jones was anything but. Debuting two weeks before 'The Jerry Springer Show' in 1991, she helped usher in tabloid-talk -- the raunchier the topic, the better. Out-of-wedlock babies and paternity tests, wayward teens, the obese, the obtuse -- Jones had a knack for seeming as shocked as her viewers. Always testing boundaries, the show finally went too far: On a March 6, 1995 episode about same-sex secret crushes, Scott Amedure, a gay man, confessed to a straight man, Jonathan Schmitz, that he had a crush on him. A few days later the emotionally unstable Schmitz murdered Amedure. After a legal tussle, a Michigan appeals court ruled Jones was not liable for Amedure's death. While the show never really reclaimed its mojo, Jones remained on the air until 2003.

8. 'The Merv Griffin Show'
For more than 25 years, on two different networks and then in syndication, 'The Merv Griffin Show' was like having access to a Hollywood lounge. A gifted entrepreneur and producer, Griffin was responsible for creating both 'Wheel of Fortune' and 'Jeopardy!' but excelled as a talk-show host. He was affable, charming and intelligent; his talk show operated on a whole other level, as relaxing and entertaining in its time as a good scotch and a great cigar. In his prime, Griffin was the only person thought remotely capable of competing against Johnny Carson on the 'The Tonight Show,' which he tried to do unsuccessfully. Also problematic were Griffin's forays into politics: After booking many guests known to be against the Vietnam War, segments of his audience revolted. In 1986, Griffin left the talk-show scene, but deftly managed his billion-dollar media empire until his death in 2007.

7.'The Dick Cavett Show'
To quote Shakespeare, Dick Cavett's talk show was "caviar to the general." Erudite, probing, great at wordplay, Cavett held many jobs -- magician, copy boy, talent coordinator -- before ABC gave him a daytime gig in 1968, then a primetime slot in 1969. 'The Dick Cavett Show' always landed guests sure to make a splash, such as legendary film stars Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn and -- in an era of harsh racial politics -- Georgia's pro-segregation governor Lester Maddox. And at a time when many talk shows avoided booking rock musicians, his show featured some of the performers from Woodstock. Over 40-plus years, 'The Dick Cavett Show' enjoyed many incarnations on various networks, but it's Cavett's original interviews, broadcast through Jan. 1, 1975, that are now considered landmarks of the genre. At 73, Cavett still hosts, acts and writes.

6. 'The Arsenio Hall Show'
Despite being on air just five years (a sprint compared to his enduring colleagues), Hall's self-titled show made a huge impact. In 1987, the rising actor-comedian unexpectedly received a 13-week subbing assignment from Fox after Joan Rivers was dismissed from 'The Late Show' -- their attempt to dethrone Johnny Carson. Two years later, Hall returned to Fox with a talk show like no other, with an urban, liberal, edgy tone, and an audience eager to chant "Woof! Woof! Woof!" (or "Woo! Woo! Woo") on cue. Aside from frequent visits by the likes of rapper MC Hammer, Hall's most famous guest was an Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton, who was running for president. Clinton blew a saxophone -- and the ratings -- away. Hall's recent appearances on George Lopez's talk show help keep him in the limelight.

5. 'Sally'
Unlike the many talk-show hosts coming out of stand-up comedy or acting, Sally Jessy Raphael -- formerly Sally Angeline Lowenthal -- came to the genre after journalism training. She got her first talk gig in radio, opting against politics as a discussion point in favor of softer-sell subjects like relationship issues. Phil Donahue became a fan, and Raphael was given the chance to host the TV show that became known as 'Sally,' which ran in syndication from 1983 to 2002. Looking calm, if schoolmarmish, in colossal red glasses, Raphael headed in the same tabloid-trash direction as her 1990s talk-show competitors, but she never seemed truly at home with scandal and sensationalism. After leaving TV, she stayed on the radio for a time. Today, she offers a downloadable podcast at her website, sallyjr.com.

4. 'Ricki Lake'
After starring in the 1988 John Waters film 'Hairspray,' no one would have guessed Ricki Lake would detour into TV talk. But with the launch of 'Ricki Lake' in 1993, that's just what happened. Younger than most talk-show hosts, Lake's fresh, approachable attitude put a new spin on the bottom-of-the-barrel topics then dominating the genre. True, there were just as many recalcitrant baby daddies, questionable makeovers and sassiness as on any other show, but Lake never came off as a parental figure, more like one of the kids. This provided her with enormous cache and, until she ended the show in 2004, impressive ratings. Lake, whose documentary about home birth, 'The Business of Being Born,' caused a 2008 stir, hosted season 3 of the charmless reality TV show 'Charm School' in 2009.

3. 'The Montel Williams Show'
Though Williams' program debuted the same day as 'The Jerry Springer Show' -- Sept. 30, 1991 -- they were far different ventures. Whereas Springer's show perfected lowest-common-denominator trashiness, the former U.S. marine displayed limited tolerance for nonsense, growing less enchanted with the tabloid format and more attracted to personal stories of triumph over disease or other obstacles. Williams himself broke new ground by revealing his 1999 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. There were slip-ups: His regular booking of Sylvia Browne, a psychic whose foresight powers have been pilloried by the media, was a lot point. And there were rough political moments, such as when Williams began sharing his view on the war in Iraq. But, for the most part, Williams walked the line between deep and shallow with effortless grace. 'The Montel Williams Show' went off the air in 2008.

2. 'Donahue'
The extraordinary run of 'The Phil Donahue Show' started in Dayton, Ohio, in 1967, moving to syndication in 1970. In many ways, it was the daytime Donahue, not the nighttime Carson, who re-imagined what a talk show could aspire to -- then he set the gold standard by achieving it. Liberal, emotional and sometimes a touch self-righteous, his gift wasn't just how he interacted with guests -- which included the famous, infamous and the unknown -- but how he involved the audience, literally running from one member of the audience to another in order to give as many as possible a chance to talk to his guests. Though Donahue's energy never flagged, a steamroller named Oprah Winfrey overtook him in the ratings, ending 'Donahue's' reign in 1996. Now 75, he occasionally produces films and enjoys life with actress Marlo Thomas, who he married in 1980.

1. 'The Rosie O'Donnell Show'
For six seasons, O'Donnell's program was a rollicking hot spot for TV talk. A stand-up comic who had fast-tracked to fame through such films as 'A League of Their Own' and 'Sleepless in Seattle,' her I'm-just-like-you persona made her daytime slot seem like a welcome coffee break. Broadcasting from New York, the Long Island native wore her love of Broadway proudly; hardly a week passed by without theater actors or musical numbers being featured. An unabashed, unapologetic fan, O'Donnell openly invited such superstars as Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand to come on her show, which they finally did (separately). Still, even as her Emmys piled up -- she won for outstanding talk-show host five times -- she began pushing back on her "queen of nice" status, controversially debating actor Tom Selleck on gun control. O'Donnell's departure from TV talk in 2002 preceded her coming out as a lesbian and various other nibbles in the political and cultural arenas. She's sorely missed.

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