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Polis Report

Talking Down

By Ami Chen Mills

Talk show pioneer Phil Donahue is retiring, and he may try to claim a respectable legacy, but the chat fests Phil spawned have retained little of the democratic promise the Don Man hoped for.

There was a Talk Show Golden Age. I was in college in the 1980s and, although subjects ranged from racy to raunchy, I thought it was great that a multicultural audience of your average American folks were allowed to ask pointed questions of the pot smoker, psychic healer, stripper and alien abuductee.

We all wonder about these things.

Discussions were intense and interesting--at least in comparison to macroeconomics. But the Golden Age is over.

Last week, wracked with insomnia, I flipped on the TV to find something soothing. I got Jerry Springer. This was a segment on a small but vocal chapter of the Klu Klux Klan.

There was more yelling going on than actual talking. Opposition guests ended every "discussion" with an invitation to go outside. Head pounding, I found myself wondering, Can't we all just get along?

The talk show format holds promise in that disparate groups can hold forth in a public setting and perhaps understand each other. Even the Klan was attempting to express some kind of internalized angst. But when the show flashed an appeal for guests--Do you want to accuse somebody of something on our show?--I decided that, with the legacy of the Silver Fox, the talk-show tomb had been sealed.

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From the May 9-15, 1996 issue of Metro

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