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Jewish World Review April 9, 2002 / 28 Nisan, 5762

Phil Perrier

Phil Perrier
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Consumer Reports

Welcome back, Phil | Phil Donahue is returning to television. Please, contain yourselves. After a six year hiatus Phil will return to hosting a talk show on MSNBC.

Donahue, an outspoken death penalty opponent, supported Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election. His new network is hoping such populist views will spin ratings gold with meat-and-potatos Americans.

Donahue's show will offer a liberal alternative to the Fox hit "The O'Reilly Factor," hosted by libertarian pundit Bill O'Reilly. Will this be a new, improved Phil Donahue? Will he try to be more like Jerry Springer? Will he come out of the closet? Or, will Phil offer up the same tired, flea-bitten, knee-jerk, poodle-kissing, bed-wetting liberalism that is his trademark?


Okay, so we all know the answer.

But darn it, Phil Donahue invented the daytime issue-based talk show. If it weren't for Phil Donahue there would be no Jerry Springer, Ricky Lake, Sally Jesse, Montel or, dare I say it, OPRAH! (Sunshine bursts through the clouds- angels sing) Phil Donahue pioneered the concept of an afternoon talk show with a live audience of angry, medicated housewives.

Fearlessly, Phil tackled all the thorny issues; racism, poverty, the environment, the economy.

And once, Phil wore a dress.

Through it all, 29 years, 6000 shows, Phil CARED. Boy did he care. Phil Donahue's heart bleed with the numbing constancy of one of those fountains in a chinese restaurant.

When Jane Fonda was busy doing workout videos and Ted Kennedy couldn't find his pants, Phil never forgot to care. There were not enough hours in the day for Phil to suffer.

And then, times changed.

The Clintons came along and Democrats looked a little different, a little more like Republicans; enough moping around, lets have some fun and stop being so CONCERNED all the time and lets make some money, they said.

The old guard passed or lost it juice. The classic Eastern liberals, linear heirs to the Roosevelt legacy, people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tip O'Neill, Ted Kennedy all faded. And so did Phil. The ideas were of a different time; the New Deal, government programs to fix everything; the poor and minorities as noble savages who need a benevolent government to save them from themselves.

Some of it probably even worked for a while but, like communism, socialism was doomed to fail.

But a ragtag handful of them remain. Still waddling along, nursing bum hips and prostates and talking about wild nights with Warren Beatty and Ed Muskie and "Reefers" they smoked with Pete Seeger and "relations" they had with people they were not married to. At the front of the tweedy little pack are Phil Donahue and Ralph Nader; as trapped in the 1970s as an ABBA song and blissfully unaware of it.

Today Phil Donahue's ideas are almost nostaligic. Like taking a ride in a van with shag carpeting on the walls.

For better or worse America is a conservative country. George W. Bush is not exactly James Brown. But he is a pretty good representation of an American; a guy who drives a pickup truck, goes to bed by nine and votes Republican. And, someone who would like to beat Phil Donahue with a rubber hose if given the chance.

Phil Donahue along with Geraldo, Bryant Gumbel and a few others, remind us that some people however repellent, are meant to be on TV.

And if evolution dictates that the older they get the further down the cable dial they wind up, so be it.

Maybe with a little luck the ratings war between Phil and O'Reilly will heat up and the two will face off on Fox's "Celebrity Boxing."

If so, look for Phil to go to the fetal position early.

JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


03/21/02: The Hollywood Curmudgeon's Guide to the Oscars
02/15/02: Another piece of Americana bites the dust
01/18/02: I'M SPARTACUS!
12/31/01: Realistic New Year's resolutions
11/02/01: Return to narcissism with Emmys
10/19/01: White trash exchange program
10/01/01: A few shows that will not be on the fall lineup
09/25/01: What's important
09/20/01: A sleeping giant awakes

© 2001, Phil Perrier