Watch Phil's tribute to Oprah.
From its very first episode in 1969, broadcast from a station in Dayton, Ohio, The Phil Donahue Show was different from anything else on TV. "We were competing with Monty Hall [on Let's Make a Deal] who's giving $5,000 to a woman dressed like a chicken salad sandwich," Phil says. "We knew that in order to get attention, we had to be controversial."
From his home base in the Midwest, Phil had no access to celebrities or power brokers, but he turned this liability into an opportunity. His first guest was outspoken atheism activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair. When Madalyn started mocking the tenets of Christianity, the phones started ringing. "I mean, sponsors canceled. We were on the air like 10 minutes and people were scrambling," Phil says. "But everybody knew there was a talk show in Dayton, Ohio, at 10:30 in the morning."
Watch Sally Jessy, Geraldo, Ricki and Montel share how they started out as talk show hosts.
In 1996, after 20 daytime Emmys and 26 seasons in syndication, the king of daytime talk ended his reign.