I Used To Watch 7 Talk Shows In The '90s — In Retrospect, Here's How I'd Rank Them

 Jerry Springer on The Jerry Springer Show.
Credit: NBCUniversal

When it comes to television in the ‘90s, I can honestly say that I grew up with three major things in my life: the best animated TV shows, dramas, and talk shows.

And, of those three things, I probably, surprisingly, watched talk shows more than anything else. Because I just couldn’t get enough of people cheating on their spouses, finding out that they were, in fact, not the father, and reuniting with lost loved ones. Sure, I got a lot of great storytelling out of scripted TV shows, like New York Undercover (which I still adore), and the steaminess from shows like Melrose Place. However, talk shows were such a perfect marriage of the two that they always brought me back to my TV screen week after week.

That said, not all talk shows are created equally, and of the seven that I watched religiously, this is how I would rank them. Oh, and shout out to Geraldo, Rolonda, The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, and the insanity that was The Richard Bey Show. They all just missed the list since I didn’t quite watch them on a regular basis, and only caught them here and there.

Phil Donahue with Bob Ross on The Phil Donahue Show
Phil Donahue with Bob Ross on The Phil Donahue Show

7. The Phil Donahue Show

Looking back, I'm actually kind of shocked that I even watched The Phil Donahue Show. It's not that it was bad or anything like that, but it was just such a quiet show. The audience just sat there and listened, and you could tell that there was general concern around certain topics, such as grown men dating teenagers.

That said, I think I mostly watched Donahue for the guests, like when he had on Marilyn Manson, which I remember vividly, or when he had on Bob Ross.

The host was definitely fine for the time, but you could tell he was from an earlier era, which he was, as his show debuted back in 1967. That’s why I'm stunned that my 10-year-old self regularly watched. I guess I had more patience back then than I thought.

Oprah on The Oprah Winfrey Show
Oprah on The Oprah Winfrey Show

6. The Oprah Winfrey Show

Not too long ago, I wrote about 7 famous Black figures who are long overdue for a biopic, and I put Oprah on that list, as how could I not? She's Oprah!

With that said, there is nothing I can take away from her by putting her so low on this list. I mean, she beat Donahue in the ratings, won several Emmys, and got people to actually read in America. What’s not to love? That said, I kind of found Oprah boring back in the day, which says a lot more about me than it does her.

Out of all the talk show hosts back then, Oprah seemed like the most honest, as well as the most personal. She would struggle with her weight, much like her viewership, and was infinitely relatable.

So, even though I respect her show, I can’t put it much higher because I would always channel surf whenever I watched her program, which is why she lands at number 6.

Montel Williams on The Montel Williams Show
Montel Williams on The Montel Williams Show

5. The Montel Williams Show

Similar to Oprah, The Montel Williams Show seemed like a grown up talk show, and it’s crazy to me that I would watch it on a weekly basis. It might be because I really liked seeing a Black man having his own show, as that really made all the difference to me. Montel would just calmly sit with his guests, and often tried to coach them through difficult times, much like Oprah.

Though she came later (so I’m cheating a little), I also liked when Montel had on Sylvia Browne, because then the show would get into some really bizarre topics, like UFO sightings. I know I should have preferred Oprah to Montel, given the educational content she provided, but the heart likes what the heart likes, and I liked The Montel Williams Show more than I like The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Ricki Lake on her talk show
Ricki Lake on her talk show

4. The Ricki Lake Show

Man, I loved The Ricki Lake Show. It was that fine line between tawdry and classy that I really enjoyed as a child. Ricki often had topics I could relate to more, as she’d frequently have teenagers on her show, like that one dude who slept with four girls in one day. I also really liked that her audience was really interactive, making the show extremely fun to watch.

Her topics were also usually pretty enjoyable, like the, “You dumped me, but look at me now!” specials. Honestly, I don’t have much more to say about her, other than that she put on a good talk show, and had an excellent personality. Real ones know, Ricki Lake was the bomb.

Jenny Jones on The Jenny Jones Show
Jenny Jones on The Jenny Jones Show

3. The Jenny Jones Show

Okay, so now we're getting into the outrageous. Whenever I think about The Jenny Jones Show, I envision makeovers, as there were so many episodes where guests came in looking super plain, and then came out looking like movie stars.

And, the crowd was so rowdy. I mean, they weren’t Jerry Springer rowdy, but they often cheered loudly and asked some really silly questions.

Plus,  Jones herself made for a good straight woman amongst all the silliness. When women would come out with like, size F breasts (as voluptuous women were another popular topic on her program), Ms. Jones would act like it was the most normal thing in the world.

In that way, we could all use some more Jenny Jones in our lives.

Maury Povich on The Maury Povich Show
Maury Povich on The Maury Povich Show

2. The Maury Povich Show

The show that launched a hundred “You are not the father” memes, The Maury Povich Show wasn't just paternity tests and dancing, but those were definitely the most memorable episodes.

Debuting back in 1991, Maury seemed to get seedier and seedier the longer things went on.

However, instead of having people get into all out brawls like on Jerry Springer, Povich would calmly have lie detector tests, or guests who had extreme phobias, only to bring out the object that brought that guest fear, leaving them running off the stage.

All of it was immensely entertaining. Unlike Oprah, or Lake, who genuinely looked like they cared about their guests, it seemed that Povich didn’t give two craps about who he had on his show, and it all just got more and more ridiculous as the years went on. This, to me, made Maury infinitely watchable. But, he didn’t have the greatest talk show of them all. That title can only go to one man.

Jerry Springer's Final Thought
Jerry Springer's Final Thought

1. The Jerry Springer Show

Similar to the Highlander series, there can only be one, and The Jerry Springer Show is the number 1 talk show of the ‘90s. I said as much when Jerry Springer passed away (rest his soul), and I'm saying it again now.

There really was nothing else like it. It seemed like pretty much every episode erupted into violence, followed by tears. So it was must-see TV!

So-in-so cheated on so-in-so, and then the fists would come out. It got to the point where even the guests seemed to know that if they were being invited onto Springer, then it was only a matter of time that they would have to start taking off their earrings, and rolling up their sleeves, because a fight was bound to occur.

Then, Springer would have his Final Thought, where he would speak philosophically as if he wasn't just the ringmaster to the greatest circus on television. Hour for hour, The Jerry Springer Show was the most enjoyable talk show of the ‘90s, and it isn't even close.

Ah, it was fun going down memory lane, but what was your favorite talk show of the ‘90s?