Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Late Great Mike Douglas

Talk show host and television pesonality Mike Douglas died yesterday. It was his 81st birthday. For 21 years Douglas was the host of The Mike Douglas Show, one of the most popular talk shows in the history of television.

Mike Douglas was born Michael Delaney Dowd, Jr. on August 11, 1925 in Chicago. During the latter part of World War II he served in the Navy. Afterwards he was a "staff singer" for Chicago station WMAQ-TV. He went onto become a singer for Kay Kyser's big band. It was Kyser who gave him his stage name, "Mike Douglas." After Kyser retired in 1951, Douglas continued singing in night clubs and on the road.

It was in 1961 that Cleveland TV station WKYC hired Douglas as an afternoon talk show host. The programme was a winner in the ratings and in 1963 it went into national syndication. In 1965 the show would move with the station to Philadelphia. The format of The Mike Douglas Show was simple. Douglas would interview various guests, usually interspersed with songs sung by Douglas himself (he often claimed his show was not a talk show, but a music show with interviews in between the numbers). A unique feature of The Mike Douglas Show is that he would sometimes feature weeklong guest co-hosts. Among the co-hosts for the show were Fred Astaire, Jim Nabors, and, perhaps the most famous co-hosts of them all, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

On his show Douglas interviewed everyone from entertainers to politicians. His guests included Gene Kelly, Burt Reynolds, Muhammed Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Nixon. The Mike Douglas Show could also boast several firsts. The show featured early appearances by Barbara Streisand. It featured the first interviews with rock group KISS. It also featured the first television appearance of Tiger Woods, showing off his golf swing at age 2.

At its height The Mike Douglas Show reached around 6 million viewers a day. It won five Emmy Awards. The show moved to Los Angeles in 1978. It left the air in 1981.

Mike Douglas also did the singing for Prince Charming in the Disney animated classic Cinderella. In 1953 he was one of the singers on The Music Show. He also made various appearances on television shows throughout his career.

For me Mike Douglas is a bit of a fond childhood memory. The Mike Douglas Show aired the entirety of my childhood (I was 18 when it finally left the air). Much of the appeal of the show was not knowing precisely what to expect in the way of guests. Rock groups such as The Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane might be on one moment, while an important figure such as Richard Nixon could be on the next. Douglas sang at least one song on nearly every show and the show also featured comedy skits from time to time. In many respects Mike Douglas was right in saying that people were mistaken in thinking his show was a talk show. In truth, it was probably best described as an afternoon variety show. Of course, the show itself would not have been a success without Douglas. A talented singer, Douglas was the perfect talk show host--affable, gracious, and always wanting to make his guests look as good as possible. Very talk shows have matched Douglas's skill as a host. And for that reason very few have matched his success either. There certainly won't be another like him.

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