CAN WE ALL JOIN HANDS and sing a song in praise of Sally Jessy Raphael, who is hanging up her microphone and her red-rim glasses after 19 years? Yes, alas, SJR is taping her final show this month; the last original seg will air in May and reruns will carry the show through the fall.
In the magical world of talkshows, Oprah Winfrey has become the symbol of warmth and uplift. Jerry Springer is synonymous with raw emotions and chair-throwing. So viewers know what they’re getting.
But with our gal Sal, it’s always a surprise.
A recent episode began with Sally Jessy showing slides from her recent trip to the French Riviera, followed by a seg on a woman trying to give up her life as a prostitute (Sally’s segue: “You’ve seen my day, now let’s see her nights on the street!”), then a segment titled “Help … I’m 400 Pounds!”
In the middle of this, a trailer promised tomorrow’s episode would feature “funny foreign commercials and outrageous animal outtakes!”
Wow, is there no end to this woman’s talent?
IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THE SHOW, it’s difficult to describe. But like many other talkshows, it’s divided into segments, most of them themed to a single spicy title (“Paternity, Secrets & Murders,” “Conflict, Fate & the Supernatural,” “Secret Crush Will You Be Mine?” etc.)
Sally Jessy is wild, wacky and unpredictable. Judging by her constant use of notes and TelePrompTer, even she doesn’t know what’s she’s going to say next! But to give an idea of her range, here are a few of her proclamations culled from just one week of episodes:
“I am warning you in advance: This is strong stuff.”
“You’ve done the Iron Man?! Eight times!? Not bad! (pause) What is the Iron Man?”
“You’re sleeping with the two of them! You’re a whore!”
“God and talkshow hosts like to help people who help themselves.”
“Size in a male, erected, doesn’t matter!”
“Nobody deserves to get unconditional love unless they deserve it!”
The only thing she says that’s predictable: Each episode ends with her trademark signoff: “See ya down the road.”
The guests, too have memorable, poignant lines:
“To draw attention to myself, I dabbled with putting coconuts on my breasts.”
“I worked with a judge and he came out with his judge’s robe on, and underneath he wore a diaper.”
“All right, so anyway, anyway, OK, so anyway, all right, it went on, y’know, all right.”
SJR was the first female talkshow host to carry a single topic through the entire episode. But these days, one theme is too confining for someone as eclectic and electric as Sally. In an episode centered on “My Marriage Is Falling Apart,” she suddenly switched gears and presented a flood of baby gifts to a new mom who’d been pregnant with triplets when she was trapped on Sept. 11 in the World Trade Center –“on the eighth floor, my guess is,” said SJR, squinting at the TelePrompTer.
Personally, we will always treasure the celebrity makeover episode, where proud mothers wept with joy as young girls got to fulfill their dreams of looking like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. (Meanwhile, makeup, wig and clothes had miraculously transformed Sally Jessy into a Tina Turner look-alike.)
ASIDE FROM THE HOST AND GUESTS, there is a third key ingredient to the show’s success: the audience. They diligently gasped when Hurley’s wife accused him of cheating, they groaned when Julie told of spending $80,000 on a psychic hotline, and they applauded when Brandi said she didn’t want to start work at an escort service.
In an episode about conjoined twins — viewers were reminded that the term “Siamese twins” was a no-no — every person was supportive. When one twin announced she hopes to get married someday, many people took turns at the microphone to offer admiration and support. No one was rude enough to ask details of how she planned to consummate the marriage with a sister attached to her head.
So, Sally Jessy, it’s the end of an era. Daytime will be a little dimmer without you. See ya down the road.