Oprah Talks to Phil Donahue
Oprah: When you left TV [in 1996], you said you didn't know what you'd do next. I thought, "Boy, that's brave." On the Monday after your last show, I remember saying to myself, "I wonder what Phil is doing today."
Phil: I went from being the leader of my talk show to being the leader of my boat. Sailing totally focuses my mind. I learned how to pilot a 56-footer, which is bigger than any boat my father ever had—though when I go to the marina where all the rock stars keep their boats, it's the smallest. I don't know how the hell Columbus found this place. I've got satellites, radar, everything. I've been to Newfoundland, New Brunswick, all along the coast of Maine, from the East Coast down to the Bahamas and as far as Key West. I've discovered the Intracoastal Waterway. It's fabulous.
Oprah: Was that enough to fill you up after being in the heat every day?
Phil: Wherever I go in the boat, people are waving at me and I'm in charge. It's important to know how anxious I was to get off the show. I never wanted to be too highbrow for our sponsors—my job was to draw a crowd, and you can't do that playing organ music—but during one of the last months of the show, we booked a guy who could tell you what's wrong with your brain by feeling your feet. I'm lying there on this table at the New Yorker Hotel, and this guy's feeling my feet. I'm thinking, "Oh please, God." I'm saying to myself, "Get out of here. Go away. Just run." Before the days of Jerry Springer [which began airing in 1991], we could actually do a whole show on Bob Dole. We'd put all the lines on hold so people couldn't get through early. When we'd release the phones, it was boom, boom, boom.
Oprah: You invented the phrase, "Is the caller there?" Long before I had a show, I watched you a lot—but I stopped watching when I heard myself say, "Is the caller there?" I thought, I've got to reduce my Phil intake!
Phil: Callers had the bravery of anonymity. Kids who were being abused even called. We got real testimony. Viewers could hear the tears and feel the pain. It was a feature of our show that kept us alive.
Oprah: Have there been moments when you've wished you had a forum again?
Phil: Since September 11, I've been riveted by TV. I'm fascinated by the media response. I'm fascinated by John Ashcroft. And I'm taken by the language that is used: "Wipe 'em out, take 'em down...drain the swamp...win...with us or against us." I've allowed myself to say aloud that I don't know that the memory of those who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania is honored by the most powerful nation on earth killing more innocent people. Is the bombing really going to make us safer?