Phil Donahue, who invented the issue-driven daytime TV talk show, then watched his ratings slip while low-brow imitators outperformed him, is calling it quits at the end of the season.
A nine-time Emmy Award winner as outstanding host, Donahue will continue to work on TV specials and new projects in broadcasting and cable, his syndicator, Multimedia Entertainment Inc., announced Wednesday.
Industry analysts blamed Donahue’s departure on slipping ratings and a market crowded with more sensationalistic talk shows.
A spokesman for the show said Donahue was taping a program and would not be available for interviews.
Seen in more than 45 countries, “Donahue” marked its 25th anniversary in 1992. It has won 20 national Emmys and broadcasting’s prestigious Peabody award.
It first saw the light of day on Nov. 6, 1967, in Dayton, Ohio, where the then-brown-haired TV personality was launching a couch-and-desk talker, when a studio audience showed up for the canceled variety show Donahue was replacing.
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t we sit ‘em down and let ‘em watch the interview?” Donahue recalled in a 1987 interview. His guest was atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and the audience asked her questions during commercials.
Donahue thought the audience’s questions were better than his. “Sometime during that first week, I jumped off my chair and ran into the audience,” he said.
The program moved to national syndication and the top of the ratings - until a newcomer named Oprah Winfrey debuted in the 1986-87 season and knocked him out of first place.