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Thursday, July 24, 2014

How Sally Jessy Raphael Destroyed Our TV

Occasionally I like to insert little tidbits about what life was like growing up in small town Canada because I have a very good memory (well, long term anyway).  Most of these memories are somewhat on the stupid side, as I wasn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box (at least socially, anyway), but they are my own, and I own them all.

This time around, I'm going to tell you a little story about an incident that happened when I was around twelve years old.  It will successfully lead into the topic of today's blog topic.

I want to tell you the story about how a talk show host blew up our television.

Well, okay...I guess she didn't really blow it up.  It was just one of those instances in which the stars lined themselves up in the perfect position for complete and total chaos. 

Variable #1:  The television itself.  Would you believe that back in the early 1990s, televisions were a lot bigger than they are now?  In the case of the television in my parents house at the time, they had a thirty-two inch television.  Now, I know that thirty-two inch televisions aren't anything special by today's standards, but at that time, our thirty-two inch television was such that it took up the entire corner of the living room and weighed close to four hundred pounds.

It was an Electrohome floor television that my parents had received for a wedding present about five years earlier.  Great picture, and great sound...but after five years of being constantly turned on and off, it was beginning to show its age.

Variable #2:  My sister was addicted to daytime talk shows and soap operas at that time.  I can still recall her getting mad at me a couple of times when I was playing my Nintendo during the hour that "Guiding Light" was on television.  She just had to find out what was going on with Harley, and Alan-Michael, and whoever else was on that show during the summer of 1992.  She'll likely kill me for admitting this in public too, but I'm willing to take that risk for the sake of this blog.

Variable #3:  Because I did not have my own television in my bedroom until I was a teenager, my Nintendo was hooked up to our living room television, as I had said before.  And in those days, we never had the idea to have surge protectors in the house.  My Nintendo and the television were plugged into what could be considered a dodgy electrical outlet in the next room over.

(Which interestingly enough was the laundry room.  What can I say?  The people who designed the house that we lived in at the time lacked basic design.)

Variable #4:  Did you know that in my town, the month in which the most thunderstorms occur in is June?  At least that's what it seemed like back in June of '92.  I can't even remember a wetter June.  I also can't remember seeing more thunderstorms during the month of June than I did back in 1992.

So, those are the four variables.  Five year old television.  Sister's obsession with daytime television.  Thunderstorms outside.  No surge protectors.  Can you guess what happened?

What happened was that while I was at school, my sister decided during a thunderstorm that she wanted to watch an episode of what was her favourite daytime talk show.  As the rain fell down and the lightning flashed outside, she grabbed the remote control to turn on her show...

...and as she did that, a huge crack of lightning must have struck very close to our house because our television began to emit clouds of smoke!

Yep.  That's right.  The lightning strike caused a power surge which fried our television.  At least, that's what we THINK happened.  Luckily the house didn't burn down.  That would have been really bad.

Sadly, our television was no more.  In fact, my Nintendo was a casualty as well.  Although it didn't get blown up or anything, the power surge caused the Nintendo to be useless.

It was a little inconvenient to have no television for a couple of months or so, but the timing was quite good when it did happen.  It happened in the summer, which was re-run season anyway.  And by the time we got television again a couple of months later, the shows were brand new.  And I ended up getting my Super Nintendo that Christmas, so in the end it all worked out.

(Oh...and we stocked up on surge protectors when they had a sale at Canadian Tire.  We weren't about to make that same mistake twice.)

So, I suppose you're wondering...what show was so important that my sister had to watch it during one of the worst thunderstorms of the year?

It was HER show!  Sally Jessy Raphael.  The talk show host at the center of "Lightning Gate 1992".  Yes, we'll be taking a look at the former talk show host in this blog.  How she got her start, some of the topics that she covered on her show, and what she's doing now.

Now, most people would probably list Oprah Winfrey as the Queen of Talk, but the truth is that Sally Jessy Raphael predated Oprah by three years.  Her show debuted in the fall of 1983 and ran for an impressive nineteen years before wrapping up production in May 2002.  It was really easy to spot Sally Jessy Raphael and pick her out from the other talk show hosts because of her trademark red framed glasses which she wore each and every episode. 

But prior to Sally launching her own talk show, she certainly had a lot of struggles getting there.  She was born Sally Lowenthal in Easton, Pennsylvania on February 25, 1935 (making her 79 years of age as of July 24, 2014), and after graduating from Columbia University, she worked a series of jobs.  She started off as a news correspondent, worked in radio and television, and even hosted a cooking show.  Her knowledge of English and Spanish was definitely an asset as she could take jobs in Central America as well as her native United States.  She also had a small presence in Puerto Rico, where she worked a number of media based jobs.

But as mentioned before, Sally did have struggles.  Sally herself even stated that at one point in her career, she had worked at twenty-four television stations doing a variety of jobs - and had been fired from eighteen of them.  Ouch.  Though the struggle wasn't a complete loss.  She did meet her husband, Karl Soderlund, during this time.

By the time the 1980s arrived, the tide was beginning to turn for Sally.  In November 1981, she had found her niche, hosting a radio call-in show.  That show ran until 1987.  But how she got her television show was a bit of a fluke.  She was going to base her radio show entirely on politics, but decided to switch it up at the last minute to make it an advice show.  Soon after the show debuted, she was syndicated at over 200 radio stations and developed a loyal fan base.

One of those fans?  Legendary talk show host Phil Donahue.

And Phil's kind words encouraged Sally to try out for a television gig.  Producer Burt Dubrow gave her a chance be a guest host on one of his shows.  She didn't give off the best performance, and was a little bit green in front of the camera, but Dubrow saw enough potential in her to take a gamble on her.  He truly believed that as time passed, she would grow more comfortable in front of the camera.  By October 1983, she was given her own thirty minute talk show based out of St. Louis.  Over the years, the show would expand to an hour and relocate to New York City, but Sally's kind and demure personality along with a strong belief in common sense helped propel her to become one of the most successful talk show hosts of the 1980s and early 1990s.

TRIVIA:  Sally Jessy Raphael once won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show in 1989.

(By the way...the reason why she wore red glasses?  It began when Sally began to have difficulty making out the words on the teleprompter, and she was forced to get reading glasses.  The only ones available were ones with a chunky red frame.  They weren't exactly well received by production, but the audience loved them on her.  And so she kept them for the duration of the series.  And beginning in 1995, Sally began to dye her hair red to match the glasses!)

Well, okay, I don't know if she wore them specifically for that reason.  I just found it amusing.

Of course, over the years, the talk show market began to die out in the late 1990s, and by 2000, Sally's ratings had fallen to an all new low.  Despite Sally's efforts to try and keep up with the likes of Maury Povich and Jerry Springer by having sensationalistic topics, the show was cancelled in 2002.  But you can't deny that she had a lot of success while the show was on the air.

After all, she covered topics that included the following...


Oh, and she also would have occasional celebrity interviews on her program as well.  If you click HERE, you can watch one that she did with Olympic diving champ Greg Louganis.

Actually, to close off this blog, have some fun watching some old clips of the Sally Jessy Raphael show...the show that was responsible for destroying my family's living room television some twenty-two years ago.

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