When you think of daytime talk shows today, the first ones that probably pop into your head are Ellen or Oprah. They may be two of the biggest today, but if it weren't for Sally the two might not have existed. Hosted by Sally Jessy Raphael, the issue driven talk show was the first of its kind to be hosted by a woman with audience participation. The show ran from 1983-2002, but it changed formats in its later years to more bombastic tabloid subject matter- something that Raphael regrets to this day.
Appearing on Oprah: Where Are They Now?, a now 81-year old Sally Jessy Raphael remembers the later years of her show, and how she hated what she was doing. Formerly driven by societal issues, the switched formats in the late 90's in order to compete with the growing popularity of shows like Maury and The Jerry Springer Show. Sally instead focused on relationships and surprise factor, and it wasn't what Raphael had signed up for.
I hated them. I was betrayed by some of the producers into doing that. Come to think of it, I should have fought harder for what I knew was right --- what I knew that I didn't want to do.
That's a difficult situation for anyone to be in. We all have our own taste, but Sally Jesse Raphael didn't start the show to talk about whose baby was whose. She feels like she should have stood up for herself, but the show was declining in ratings. Even after they flipped the script, not many people were tuning in, and then Raphael was put in an even worse decision about how to handle a foreboding cancellation. Sally was eventually canceled in 2002, but it came as a surprise to Raphael, who had to break the news to her employees.
They told us that the show was going to go on and we had 250 employees. Now some of them said, 'Sally we need to know if we're going to be renewed. I want to buy a house or my wife and I want to be pregnant.' And then within two months after they bought their house and got pregnant or whatever, I had to go in front of the entire crew and staff.
While the Sally made its mark and helped paved the way for more women to host their own talk shows, it had a pretty sad ending. It always stinks when a formally good show can't finish on top. If you want to see what the later years of Sally were like, here's a clip from 2000 of a now buff high school nerd surprising a girl who used to be mean to him with his hotness. It's as compelling as it sounds.
You can catch the whole episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? with Sally Jessy Raphael, when it airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.