The Titans of Talk
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.
Phil says he doesn't miss the fame he once had. "I now carry Marlo's trophies. People knock me over to get to 'That Girl,'" he says. "And sooner or later they'll look at me and say, 'Oh, we like you, too, Merv.' Fame is fleeting—I ought to know—but it was a wonderful ride."
At first, Sally says she loved the feeling of being off camera. "It was two weeks—great, I don't have to get up. And then it was seven years—why doesn't anybody call me?" she says. "So I'm doing a show now about a talk show host who is asked to leave the air and what happens to her after that."
His show distinguished itself with a brash attitude and in-your-face guests that led Newsweek to feature him on the cover under the headline, "Trash TV." Geraldo says there once was even a public decency campaign against his show.
After 11 years on the air, he called it quits to focus on reporting.
His personal life has changed as well. In 2003, Geraldo married for the fifth time, and in 2005, he became a father for the fifth time. At 67, Geraldo says he's finally settled into life as a family man. "It's the most important thing in my life, bar none. I'm not a club person anymore. I don't care about any of that kind of stuff anymore," he says. "I care about being a good husband and a good dad."
When a tabloid threatened to reveal that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, Montel decided to go public with his secret.
Read what Montel told Dr. Oz about his diagnosis—and how he copes with his constant pain.
After 17 years on the air, Montel's final show aired in 2008.
To help others with their battles with pain, Montel wrote the book Living Well Emotionally: Break Through to a Life of Happiness.
Montel says his experience with multiple sclerosis has turned him into a devoted activist for patients, especially injured veterans. "I go to see our troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed every three to four weeks, stand bedside every three to four weeks," he says. "A lot of celebrities aren't showing up anymore. A lot of people aren't going down there to say hello. And every single day we have guys coming back here who have lost limbs, left them over there, for us. So when you talk that trash about 'I support the troops'—put your money, your mouth, your face behind it and go down there and do something."
Her final show aired in 2002.
She produced the 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born, which advocates the use of alternative birthing methods. Her latest project is fighting childhood obesity. It's the subject of her book, Too Small to Be Big, and her AllStride program.
"I'm reinventing," she says. "It's all about changing it up and putting myself out there in a way people haven't seen before."
Watch what advice Phil, Sally, Geraldo, Montel and Ricki give Oprah as her 25th season ends.
How much do you know about the hosts of daytime? Take this quiz!