The 2013 documentary EVOCATEUR: THE MORTON DOWNEY, JUNIOR, MOVIE depicts the trash television talk show host's rapid rise and fast fall. Living in New Jersey my whole life, I had forgotten THE MORTON DOWNEY, JR., SHOW, which originated on a Secaucus, N.J., station, did not even last two years. But, as this film depicts, the important thing to remember is that Downey broke the television shame barrier. While guest-attacking shows such as HOT SEAT with Wally George were limited to U.H.F. channels, THE MORTON DOWNEY, JR., SHOW moved that format to V.H.F. television, where Downey often asked a question of and insulted someone in the same breath.
An unchallenged, incorrect remark of one EVOCATEUR interview subject claims television's DONAHUE show, which ran from 1967 to 1996 and popularized the audience-centered T.V. interview program format still in vogue as I write this in September 2013, avoided provocative topics. Obviously that person did not see DONAHUE often, missing broadcasts with guests such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Moore, and Pete Rose, to name three controversial individuals I recall seeing on the show. The first-ever DONAHUE guest was Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
The many DONAHUE imitators that followed would seek arguments, too, but much more often with guests of whom you have not heard because they are regular people fighting over paternity tests, marital infidelity, and other salacious nonsense. DONAHUE was about topics that aroused passionate debate. Its copycats skipped the topics in favor of trailer trash love triangles, passion with no point. Sure, Muhammad Ali polarized people with his refusal to be inducted into military service and his DONAHUE appearance made for compelling television. But the sight of one fat woman lunging at another because both had children by the same fat dude, as seen in the bad imitators of DONAUE such as MAURY and SALLY JESSE RAPHAEL, will also keep people from changing the channel.
As we see in EVOCATEUR, the legacy of the late Morton Downey, Jr., is spreading into the mainstream the kind of trash talk show where the host is the one lunging at people. Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace, and Phil McGraw should leave flowers at his grave regularly.