Oprah Winfrey - Disarming the Loud and Angry Voices
The large black man sitting on the stage had heard the demeaning reference one too many times. Suddenly and swiftly, he had his large hands around the tattooed neck of the white perpetrator. The large man was choking the scrawny skinhead who had called him a nigger on national television. Instantly the audience, mainly white supremacists and black militants, was at war. Punches were thrown, and chairs were sent flying. In the melee, Geraldo Rivera sustained a broken nose, and the ratings for his talk show soared. This incident, a few years back, helped to propagate the idea of lurid excitement as entertainment. Today's mass media is in the business of sensationalism. Television and radio have parlayed shock and controversy into popular recreation. Television daytime talk shows have been especially guilty of this type of tabloid entertainment. Thankfully, The Oprah Winfrey Show is not one of them. The Oprah Winfrey Show is an appealing talk show because it has an inspiring host who features topics on the human condition without resorting to sordid sensationalism.
Daytime talk shows have evolved over the years. In the early fifties and sixties, shows like Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin featured celebrities who would sing, dance, and briefly chat with their ever-congenial hosts. Then, in the early seventies, emerged The Phil Donahue Show. It was unique because it was the first talk show to tackle serious issues and outlandish people. Phil Donahue exposed segments of society that could be both shocking and thought provoking. Phil's show dealt with subjects ranging from cross-dressers to life in Russia. This new talk show format also offered an opportunity for the audience to become actively involved by posing questions to the guests. It proved to be a winning formula. For nearly two decades, Phil Donahue dominated the daytime talk show scene, until Oprah Winfrey made her debut in 1984.
The Oprah Winfrey Show continued the tradition of bringing serious issues, such as alcoholism and child abuse, to the forefront. But, to be competitive with Phil, she dealt with the bizarre and the titillating as well. Her subjects would range from total body tattoos to frank discussions on deviant sex. Phil and Oprah were offering an alternative to daytime soap operas. Phil and Oprah were offering real-life soap operas. Their overwhelming success in attracting daytime viewers ultimately spawned talk-show clones by the dozens. There was increasing competition from shows like Geraldo, Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake, and Sally Jessy Raphael. Daytime talk had become big business, and each show was eager to capture the largest share of the audience. Consequently, the war for ratings produced a gluttony of circus-like sideshows with each program trying to outdo the other.
The airwaves increasingly became inundated with trash television. In any given...