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American Television, Talk Shows  
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Among this spate of celebrities, however, were two notable gay personalities, Jim J. Bullock, who rose to fame as Monroe Ficus on ABC's Too Close For Comfort (1980-1985), and Charles Perez, who co-anchored the entertainment news show American Journal from 1993 to 1998. In addition, a newer celebrity, drag star RuPaul also debuted a talk show in the late 1990s.

Perez's show, which aired from 1994 to 1996, was known mostly for its catchy theme song, "You Got It Goin On." His show was indistinguishable from those of Springer and Lake and featured the same variety of dysfunctional heterosexuals and raucous queer characters, such as, for example, Consuela Cosmetica, a black drag queen dominatrix.

Bullock's show, however, was particularly notable because of its flamboyantly out host, as well as his choice for co-host, Tammy Faye Messner, former wife of televangelist Jim Bakker and former co-host of the PTL Club. The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show had a short four-month run in 1996, but it differed from other talk shows, relying on light, non-controversial topics, and a relentlessly happy atmosphere. Tammy Faye, however, left the show after three months, citing health reasons, and the show was cancelled soon afterwards.

Also in 1996, an equally out and proud show debuted on the cable network VH1. The RuPaul Show, which featured the fierce drag diva RuPaul, premiered on October 12, 1996 and welcomed, during its two-year run, an eclectic mix of guests including cross-dressing basketball star Dennis Rodman and lesbian country singer k. d. lang.

The show highlighted RuPaul's strong sense of camp, biting humor, and open expressions of his sexual orientation, but a 1998 episode entitled "The Family Show" was especially memorable. It contained touching footage of his family's reunion, as well as compassionate interviews with his three sisters.

Later that same year, the episode was nominated for a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award in the Outstanding TV Talk category. Despite this nomination, however, VH1 opted not to renew the show for its next season, and it left the air in September 1998.

Less Talk

The cancellation of the shows hosted by Perez, Bullock, and RuPaul were part of a concerted decision by network executives to clear the airwaves of so much talk. From a mid-1990s high of over thirty talk shows, the number dwindled to fewer than ten major venues.

Even so, in 2000 controversial radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger attempted to cross over into television. Schlessinger, whose moralistic and judgmental rhetoric angered many people, especially gay men and lesbians (whom she labeled "biological errors"), appeared briefly on the Paramount network. However, due in no small part to furious protests and boycott threats from the glbtq and women's communities, over 95 advertisers withdrew their sponsorships from the show, and Paramount's affiliate stations either cancelled the show outright or relegated it to late-night slots until the plug was finally pulled.

Oprah, Rosie, and Ellen

Television, it seems, has come full circle. Beginning in 1998 Oprah Winfrey actively participated in an effort to clean up daytime talk shows. Her show began focusing on healing relationships, promoting books, making over wardrobes, and a strange, almost New Age mantra called "finding your spirit." Her core audience also changed. It became composed primarily of white heterosexual housewives.

Another show that renewed interest in conversation and variety was The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which aired from 1996 until 2001. O'Donnell's infectious humor, exhaustive knowledge of celebrity and showbiz trivia, and likeability made her show a runaway success and re-emphasized the clean side of television. At the same time, her role as an icon among lesbians and her status as a single mother adoptive parent made her show especially popular in the glbtq community.

Although O'Donnell was frequently criticized by gay and lesbian activists for failing to acknowledge her homosexuality publicly, she refused to act until she was ready. In March 2002, on a widely hyped appearance on ABC's Primetime Thursday, she told Diane Sawyer, "I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like: I am a gay parent."

While some critics have speculated that her decision to come out was predicated on her prior decision to leave her show and on the promotion of her autobiography Find Me (2002), her own explanation is that she needed a political reason to motivate her to come out publicly, and she found that reason in the discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the adoption policies of many states, especially Florida.

O'Donnell helped rehabilitate the talk show as a respectable form of entertainment. For her efforts, she won a total of ten Emmys in six years.

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