During the final quarter of the twentieth century, Chicago became the center for production of nationally syndicated talk television, highlighted first by Phil Donahue, then Oprah Winfrey, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer. Phil Donahue began modern talk television from Dayton, Ohio, and then moved to Chicago. Expanding through the 1970s, he became the nation's number one host with an innovative style that saw him climb into a coffin to interview a mortician, run footage of a woman giving birth, and banter with phone-in callers who voted on the morality of an anatomically correct male doll. Through it all Donahue was ever walking into the audience, pointing his microphone to his nearly always female fans, and asking what they thought.
Donahue's success was emulated by others, notably Oprah Winfrey. By 1990, Winfrey far outdistanced Donahue, setting records for ratings and advertising time sold. She had come to Chicago from Baltimore in 1983, joining A.M. Chicago on WLS -TV. Soon she went national, surpassing Donahue by 1986 and, from her Chicago base, becoming one of the most popular and wealthy personalities in TV history. From her Chicago-based Harpo studios came not only her daily talk show but also miniseries and documentaries. Winfrey's intuitive ability to sympathize with guests (often to the point of tears) upped the ante of talk TV sensationalism. Imitators, led by Chicago-based Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer, pushed even further, featuring lewd shouting matches and bawdy (staged) brawls.
Carbaugh, Donald A. Talking American: Cultural Discourses of Donahue. 1988.
Priest, Patricia Joyner. Public Intimacies: Talk Show Participants and Tell-All TV. 1996.
Shattuc, Jane. The Talking Cure: Women and Daytime Talk Shows. 1996.
The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago © 2005 Chicago Historical Society.
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