There have been many people who have captured our attention and whom we trusted, who influenced how we voted, what we purchased and which God to believe in. Before Internet with its social media pages, search engines, community manager, SEO and other search engine marketers pushing contents, once TV came into our living rooms, the ability to reach the masses changed forever.
5. Larry King
The premier television and radio host. After conquering local Miami radio and TV markets in the 1950s and 1960s, King moved to national radio in 1978, before landing at CNN in 1985. Larry King Live has featured a broad range of guests, from UFO theorists and psychics, to prominent entertainers, politicians and world leaders. Having conducted over 40,000 interviews throughout his career, King has earned the moniker “Muhammad Ali of the broadcast interview.” Amongst King’s interviewees are every U.S. President since Gerald Ford, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Malcolm X, “Deep Throat”, Monica Lewinsky, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Madonna, Sir Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand, including countless others. In 1993, King’s NAFTA debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot scored the highest ratings in cable television and CNN’s history. King also moderated a historic hour on the Middle East Peace Process in 1995, featuring King Hussein of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. After such profile events as Hurricane Katrina, the 2003 Iraq Invasion, the September 11th attacks, and the 2000 Election Florida Vote Recount, King broadcast live for a number of consecutive days. Brooklyn-born King has been continuously honored for his work, having been inducted into 5 of the nation’s leading broadcasting halls of fame, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and served as an Olympic Torch Bearer. His innumerable awards include an Emmy, 2 Peabody Awards, 10 Cable ACE awards, and a selection of honorary degrees. After more than 50 years in broadcasting at 76 years of age, King announced his last episode of Larry King Live will air on December 16th 2010.
4. Johnny Carson (October 23, 1925- January 23, 2005)
“Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” heralded Carson’s arrival on stage each night as the host of The Tonight Show. Carson began in radio, and got his earliest breaks from comedians Red Skelton and Jack Benny in the 1950s. Carson became a fixture on television, hosting a number of game shows and variety shows including Earn Your Vacation, The Johnny Carson Show, and Who Do You Trust?, where he met future sidekick Ed McMahon. Carson at declined NBC’s first offer to host The Tonight Show, but later reconsidered. Carson’s first show broadcast from NY in October 1962, and quickly became the standard by which all talk show hosts would be judged, well beyond his retirement in 1992. In his 30 year stint, the show was characterized by monologues, music, comedy sketches and interviews. Some of the show’s most memorable, albeit risqué, moments were with Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Zsa Zsa Gabor’s cat. In one of his best bits as the psychic “Carnac the Magnificent”, Carson donned a turban and cape. With McMahon by his side, he’d hold an unopened envelope to his head and answer a question, which was written on a piece of paper inside the envelope. Once revealed, the question was often far funnier than one might have imagined.
- Carnac’s prediction: An unmarried woman.
- The question inside the envelope: What was Elizabeth Taylor between 3- 5 pm on June 1, 1952?
- Carnac’s prediction: Until he gets caught.
- Question: How long does a United States Congressman serve?
- “Your dancing is terrible, the singing was horrendous, and you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with the massive eyes. What are they called? Bush babies.”
- “Why don’t you get a job down in the port?”
- “It would be like coaching a one-legged man to win the 100m sprint. I may be a great coach, but if you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it.”
- “You sing like a 3-year-old girl, dress like LaToya Jackson, and you’ve got a beard.”
- “You have the personality of a handle.”
- “You came in, you called yourself champagne and you sounded like house wine.”
- “You have just invented a new form of torture.”
- “There’s as much chance of you being a pop star as me flying to the moon tomorrow for breakfast.”
- “I could sell you as a sleeping aid. I’ve never heard anything more boring in my life.”
- “If you sung like this 2,000 years ago, people would’ve stoned you.”
- “Let me throw a mathematical dilemma at you; there’s 500 left, well how come the odds of you winning are a million to one?”
- “You sounded like you were being strangled.”
- “It’s an absolute, unequivocal no.”
As the jokes flew, feuds inevitably developed, most famously with Wayne Newton, Joan Rivers who defected to her own rival talk show, and Jay Leno, who was seen to usher Carson into retirement for his own end (Sounds like Leno hasn’t changed much). Carson vowed never to return to the show while Leno was host, and made his point by appearing on the rival Late Show with David Letterman and occasionally sending jokes to Lettermen after his retirement. Carson was the recipient of a Peabody Award, 6 Emmys, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Carson passed away in 2005 at the age of 79.
3. Simon Cowell
He first appeared in our living rooms seemingly out of thin air, and then scored a place in our hearts forever. With such epic one-liners as:
… What’s not to love? Not much tops those early episodes of American Idol when talent judge Simon Cowell brings hopelessly delusional contestants crashing back to Earth with a hard thud. He’s able to express exactly what we, the viewers at home, are thinking, but which tact and social niceties stop us from saying. His candor critiques either leave contestants exuberant, despondent or in a fit of rage. Maybe he’s only a TV personality by accident, but with 30 years in the music biz, Cowell knows how to spot talent. Cowell worked his way up, establishing the Syco Music label under Sony BMG, which acts as home to nearly all of the artists developed through Cowell’s TV talent shows. Pop Idol debuted in the U.K. in 2001, and spawned American Idol in 2002. The format is simple. First auditions are held, with contestants filed in front of 3 judges. The ‘singers’ sing, the judges judge, and you either make it through to the next round or you’re sent packing.
On American Idol, Cowell was complemented by Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, the original panel until 2009. The three struck a perfect balance between nasty and nice, and the show was an instant hit, making Cowell a household name. American Idol has since become one of the most successful shows in U.S. history, and the only program to have been number 1 for an unprecedented six consecutive seasons. Cowell’s television conquests don’t end with Idol- there’s America’s Got Talent, American Inventor, Celebrity Duets, and on British TV, Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, Grease is the Word, Rock Rivals. Furthermore Pop Idol not only spawned American Idol, but 27 others including Latin American Idol, Indonesian Idol, Nouvelle Star, Canadian Idol and Australian Idol. This will be Cowell’s last season on American Idol and undoubtedly the show will never be the same. But Cowell’s gearing up a U.S. version of The X Factor for September 2011 so we haven’t heard the last of his brutal assessments. If you were to poll fans of his shows, 90% would agree with his assessments, and vote accordingly. Unnecessarily cruel, or does the truth hurt? Now you be the judge.
2. Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916- July 17, 2009)
Walter Cronkite is synonymous with credibility and integrity. Often cited as “the most trusted man in America”, Cronkite became one of the U.S.’s top WWII reporters covering battles in Europe and North Africa. Post war, Cronkite covered the Nuremburg trials and acted as Moscow correspondent, before joining the CBS Washington Bureau in 1950. He carved a name for himself on a number of shows, and for his election, Democratic and Republican conventions and Olympic Games coverage. But it was as anchorman of the CBS Evening News, a position he held for 19 years from 1962- 1981, that turned him into an American icon.
1. Oprah Winfrey
After making her mark in local radio and TV stations in Nashville and Baltimore, Oprah Winfrey moved to Chicago to host a morning talk show in 1984, and the rest is history. Within months it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, and became the number one rated talk show for the next 14 seasons. Her meteoric rise is credited by her ‘normal’ persona. What she lacks in journalistic grit is compensated by a bubbly, plainspoken, tender personality attuned to her audience. Her format was once described as “the talk show as a group therapy session.” Oprah often delivers revelations on her own talk show, whether about her childhood sexual abuse, rape, or yo-yo dieting. In 1993, Winfrey’s prime-time interview with Michael Jackson became the fourth most watched event in American television history as well as the most watched interview ever, with an audience of 36.5 million.
With 25 years on the air, no one has legions of loyal followers quite like Oprah. Known as “The Oprah Effect”, her word can make anything, from a Panini grill to a new album, a runaway success. Oprah’s Book Club began in 1994 and her selection has made all of the books instant bestsellers. Even her endorsement of Senator Barack Obama before the 2008 Democratic Primaries is widely recognized as a turning point in his presidential campaign. Some of the show’s more famous segments include “Oprah’s Favorite Things” which has seen audience members walk away with a number of gifts. In more memorable episodes audience members all received a new car, and a trip to Australia. Winfrey has co-founded the women’s cable TV network, Oxygen; established the Oprah Radio on XM Satellite; is planning a new channel OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network; is president of Harpo Productions; co-authored 5 books; publishes 2 magazines O, The Oprah Magazine, and O at Home. The Oprah.com website averages 70 million monthly page views, 6 million users a month, and receives 20,000 weekly emails. Her media empire has launched the careers of her frequent expert panelists, including Dr. Mehmet Oz, Nate Berkus, Dr. Robin Smith, Marianne Williamson and Dr. Phil McGraw.
An enthusiastic philanthropist and active politically, Winfrey is credited with breaking barriers for women and people of color alike. She was the first black women billionaire in world history. She has been included on notable lists ranging from TIME, to Forbes, having been repeatedly chosen or voted as the one most powerful and influential women and African-Americans of her time. In 2010 Winfrey was the only living woman to make Life magazine’s list of the 100 people who changed the world, alongside such luminaries as Jesus and Isaac Newton. Widely honored, esteemed and internationally syndicated, The Oprah Winfrey Show will end in September 2011.