Talk Show | (2024)

Talk Show History

When the Jenny Jones show went on the air in 1991 I never dreamed it would last even past the first season. Historically, only one in ten new syndicated shows ever went beyond the first year so I knew the odds were against us. And although I had done stand up comedy this was brand new territory for me. There was no place to learn, no one to shadow. There wasn’t even a talk show that taped in Los Angeles where I lived that I could go and watch. I was desperate to observe a taping of any talk show but there weren’t any. That was until Phil Donahue took his show on the road.

When I heard he was coming to L.A. I decided to sneak in. So I disguised myself, since I was already getting press about my own show, and became an audience member in the Phil Donahue Show that day. I stood in line, befriended other audience members and finally got to see the legendary host in action. During the show Phil looked right at me once and I so thought I was busted but he just kept going. Although I enjoyed the experience the only way you can learn this job is by actually doing it. Who knew that in the years following, I would not only appear on the Donahue show as a guest, but I would also be invited to attend a fundraiser with him for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Chicago and again in New York to participate in a prime time network special honoring Phil’s 25th anniversary on television.

Since I had no experience I was fortunate to get a 6-week run hosting the show locally in Las Vegas to get my feet wet. It was such a stressful time I can hardly remember any of it. I just remember being totally overwhelmed with information, homework, publicity, anxiety and insecurity. I begged for more time to prepare for the national launch but it was not possible. Shortly afterward, I relocated to Chicago and got to work. We taped at the beautiful NBC tower in downtown Chicago. The hours were long but I wasn't alone. I couldn't believe the number of staff it took to produce our first season.

The show went on the air on September 16, 1991 and I could hardly wait for the overnight ratings. They were not good. They didn’t get much better all year but the company stuck with me and we came back for season 2, with new producers and a new format. We had been a traditional daytime show featuring celebrities like Suzanne Somers, Ivana Trump, and Susan Lucci, exercise segments, cooking, and even fashion with Diedra Hall from Days of Our Lives. But in season two, we began featuring real people with compelling personal stories and our ratings got better. To my surprise, our audience got younger and younger. The company increased promotion of the show with a series of ads touting the new format and increased ratings.

I was always proud of the show. We were never afraid to try new things, being the first daytime talk show to feature hip music acts. Some of our guests included Nelly, Ludacris, Yolanda Adams, Tyrese, Billy Ray Cyrus, Coolio, and even “upcoming artist” Usher performed on the show. We were the first to do our own documentaries, called “TALKumentaries”, the first to tape entire shows out in the field and the first daytime show to feature live performances outside. And we were definitely the makeover champions! The biker chicks were always my favorites.

Three times we were honored with the Excellence in Media’s Silver Angel Award for “artistic excellence and ethical value. "We also received two prestigious Shine Awards for “outstanding portrayals of family planning, sexuality and reproductive health."

In 1995, the show was thrust into a swarm of controversy involving two former guests who appeared on a Secret Crush episode. Several days after taping the show, one of the guests was killed by the other, resulting in a trial and ultimate conviction. The victim's family members then filed a lawsuit against the show; however, in the end we were found not responsible for the tragedy. The fact that the show was vindicated was rarely reported by the media.

The success of the Jenny Jones Show is owed entirely to a truly dedicated and hard working staff. It took about a hundred people to put this show together, counting production staff and crew. Quite a few of them had been with the show since day one. We worked hard but we also had a lot of fun. This was my family. We shared so much together, including marriages and babies, as well as personal tragedies and health crises. Here are a few statistics: Over our twelve years we experienced 25 babies born to staffers, including twins and triplets, 3 staff marriages, two kidney transplants, two open heart surgeries, two deaths of long-time stage hands, even successful rehab. One staffer even came out of the closet!

We shared a lot, this family, but in the winter of 2003 we got word that the company would not be renewing our show again. We were all a bit surprised since our ratings were still good but I understood that court shows, reality shows and other talk shows were all competing for time slots. It was disappointing news but I will always be grateful to have had 12 years on a job that I truly loved. I was especially sorry that so many jobs were lost. I miss that family in Chicago, especially my "pit crew" who did my makeup, hair and wardrobe.

The Jenny Jones Show would never have lasted twelve years without our loyal viewers and I’d like to thank everyone who continued to watch us year after year, and especially all of our Chicago fans who continued to fill our studio every single tape day. Rain or shine, blizzard or sub-zero temperatures, you guys were always there for me. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for helping me be a part of television history.

Talk Show | (2024)
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