Phil Donahue, who came to New York 18 years ago and created the quintessential afternoon talk show, was dumped by New York’s WNBC-TV on Tuesday.
The unexpected cancellation, announced to a shocked “Donahue” staff Tuesday morning at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, where his show has been produced since 1985, likely means the program will not be seen by New York-area viewers this fall, although it still will be aired by an estimated 185 stations nationwide. It may also mean Donahue, who has hinted he may quit after next year, will finally retire.
“Based on the performance of the show and that we needed to make room for a new court show and a new noon newscast, we dropped the show that was the weakest performer in our afternoon lineup,” a WNBC spokeswoman said Tuesday. WNBC will replace “Donahue” with “Sally Jessy Raphael” beginning Sept. 5.
“Donahue” ratings have slid in recent years, leading to speculation the show might be “downgraded,” industry lingo meaning it would get a weaker time slot. Cancellation was not expected.
“Donahue,” which has had its share of lurid topics in recent years, has generally shied away from the sleaze in which its competitors (with the exception of “Oprah”) have revelled. It was this so-called high-road approach many industry observers believe ultimately led to the decline of audience interest.
Donahue first began his talk show in 1967 in Dayton, Ohio, and, after the show went national, it began airing on New York’s WNBC in 1977.
It is unlikely the show will find another New York station by September; most stations have already made programming purchases. But a “Donahue” spokeswoman said, “We regret their decision … and we will seek other alternatives in the market.”
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