HIS NAME WAS MIKE.
HE HAD A TALK SHOW I AM SURE YOU WOULD LIKE.
Rather than, as I had planned to do, dwell on the nadir of the live television variety show – the debacle known as ROSIE LIVE – I have been inspired by a PBS documentary to instead discuss perhaps its zenith – THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW.
The Mike Douglas Show, the first syndicated talk show to win an Emmy, started on December 11,1961 in Cleveland Ohio as a local show on Westinghouse's KYW-TV (now WKYC-TV). Mike Douglas had been a singer with the Kay Kyser Band and appeared on Kyser’s tv show. In July 1963 it was syndicated by Westinghouse to all five of its owned-and-operated stations.. In August of 1965 the show moved from Cleveland to Philadelphia. By 1967 the show was available in 171 markets and seen by an audience of 6 Million viewers a day. It moved to Los Angeles in 1978 where it remained until the end of the show's run in 1982.
The show started off as a live broadcast. After an off-color on-air remark by Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1965 - she called Morey Amsterdam a "son of a bitch" - the producers decided to tape all shows in advance of broadcast. While taped, the show itself was not edited other than to remove any such similar “objectionable material”.
During the 21 years Mike interviewed Rev. Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, members of the Chicago 8, including Black Panthar Bobby Seale, Ralph Nader, Richard Nixon, F. Lee Bailey, Hubert Humphrey, and welcomed such musical guests as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Liberace, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, KISS, Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Liza Minelli, and on and on and on.
Each week would feature a guest “co-host” who would appear for all 5 days. The guests and segments of the week were scheduled around the interests of the co-host(s). John and Yoko co-hosted a week.
After singing their song or doing their stand-up each and every guest would join Mike and his other guests to talk (this was not always the case on other talk shows) – not on a couch with the host sitting separately at a desk, but in a grouping of chairs where each person, including the host, was equal.
In the course of a 90-minute show Mike would sing a duet with Della Reese, make popcorn with Paul Newman, watch a comedy bit by George Carlin, wrestle a bear with Robert Goulet, do back-up for Sammy Davis Jr as a go-go dancer with Rowan and Martin, spit watermelon seeds with Carol Burnett, and interview Martin Luther King Jr and Alfred Hitchcock.
I grew up watching THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, and specifically remember discussing the show in class in grammar school (I think it was 8th Grade). I do believe the teacher encouraged us to watch it as a way of learning about current events.
While Mike interviewed many controversial political figures, the show itself was not political. He was an easy-going guy, who represented middle-America. He was equally at ease with each of his guests.
The show has historical prominence not only for its interviews with news makers but also for the unique pairing of musical guests – most notably John Lennon and Chuck Berry performing “Johnny B. Goode”. Lennon and Berry had never met before appearing together on MIKE DOUGLAS.
THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW was the first talk show appearance for Jay Leno at age 21. It also showcased early appearances of Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Dave Letterman, and, yes, even Rosie O’Donnell.
The show featured the first television appearance of Tiger Woods, who showed off his golf swing for Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart at the age of 2. The child upstaged Bob Hope (never work with children or animals).
Mike Douglas died in Palm Beach, Florida on August 11, 2006 - his 81st birthday. He had been married to the same woman since his days as a serviceman in WWII.
The PBS special was a presentation of portions of the DVD “Mike Douglas - Moments & Memories”. Unfortunately it was not shown in its entirety, and was, as is a PBS custom, frequently interrupted for begging. The DVD is available at Amazon.com. Click on the picture in the right hand margin.