NEW YORK -- When Phil Donahue started broadcasting his talk and interview show both he and Johnny Carson had brown hair.
Twenty years and more than 4,000 shows later, Donahue, 51, has become a household name in American television and both he and Carson have white hair -- and millions of viewers.
There has been a kaleidoscope of political and show business celebrities on the Donahue show -- Ronald Reagan, Spiro Agnew, Nelson Rockefeller, Daniel Ortega, Jimmy Carter, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Carson, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Joan Rivers, Ingrid Bergman and Henry Fonda, to name a few.
Then there was that girl, Marlo Thomas, who was his guest 10 years ago and who he married in 1980.
The topics on Donahue have included Jane Fonda on Vietnam, Gloria Steinem on women's rights, Phyllis Schlafly against ERA, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan and transvestites and gay senior citizens.
It is a point of dismayed pride for Donahue that his was the first major talk show to discuss AIDS. That was in 1982, when there were 300 deaths; now there are more than 25,000, Donahue said.
Donahue also has taken his show on the road all over America and to such remote locations as the site of the Soviet nuclear accident at Chernobyl and Heidelberg, Germany, for a talk with Hitler's architect and aide, Albert Speer.
The roll call of guests and topics flash past Friday, Nov. 6, when the 'Donahue' time slot will broadcast a retrospective of shows past, going back to the show's origins in Dayton, Ohio.
There's Carson being asked if Ed McMahon really drinks a lot. 'Is the pope Catholic?' was his reply. Gregory Peck said he wouldn't strip for action, Ingrid Bergman laughed about her height and Lana Turner talked about being a sensual woman. Henry Fonda looked incredulous when asked if he would pose for a nude centerfold.
Julie Eisenhower assessed Watergate, Henry Kissinger discussed Richard Nixon's resignation and Gerald Ford spoke of pardoning Nixon. Miss Lillian Carter talked about her sons Jimmy and Billy and Jimmy Carter talked about Ronald Reagan.
With all these and many more celebrity guests, are there still guests that Donahue has on his wish list.
'It would be great if Pope John Paul II would do the show,' Donahue said, then turned more serious.
'We were never very welcomed by the Reagan administration,' he said, although Reagan appeared on the show in 1977 and George Bush has been a guest during his vice presidency.
'It's always been a disappointment to us that Reagan cabinet members won't do the program. Here's an hour in which Casper Weinberger could have spoken to the people whose money he was using to rebuild the military.'
Donahue said he would love to have President Reagan as a guest, but he has no illusions that the Reaganites are scared of him and his liberal views.
'If they can handle Sam Donaldson, they can handle me,' he said. 'I think they have some anxiety about the audience. What's that woman in the third row going to say?'
Donahue sees a different America today than when the show started 20 years ago.
'The program was born in the heat of the Vietnam war, grew out of the '60s and burning cities and the chaos that ensued when urban America exploded and black Americans stood up in rage. Not a few citizens of all colors stood up to protest the war.'
The changes that have taken place are vast -- not the least, he said, that proud America, the country that never lost a war, had to face the debacle in Vietnam. On top of that, Japan built a better car than we did.
'And women have left home in staggering numbers,' Donahue continued. 'I still do not believe we have totally come to grips with the consequences of that very singularly dramatic change in our culture.
'The women appear to have changed significantly but the same cannot be said of the men. We do have the new woman, but she's trying to form relationships with the same old men.'
Did he ever dream when he first broadcast his show that it would last 20 years?
'Twenty years? We weren't sure we would last 20 days,' he said.
'But I think if at some date in the future someone takes random picks of 'Donahue' shows, they will have at least a suggestion of what happened to America in the latter part of the 20th century.'