"Listening -- to guests, to the audience, to therapists and experts -- is what keeps our show attuned to the issues our viewers truly care about." - Sally Jessy Raphael
Over the years, Sally has established herself as a friend, confidante and adviser to her audience and guests, frequently eliciting even themost intimate details of their lives. Most of the topics discussed originate from viewer mail and phone calls.
What makes Sally so empathetic? As the only talk show host whois a mother of grown children, Sally has a life experience that allows her to identify, on some level, with many of the universal problems she encounters.
"If I am in a strange city standing on a street corner, I'm the one people ask for directions. If I'm in a restaurant ladies room, the woman next to me automatically tells me the story of her life!" - Sally Jessy Raphael
People just naturally want to confide in Sally Jessy Raphael. And she just naturally wants to listen. Perhaps that is why, after working as a broadcaster since Junior High School, she achieved national recognition when she began doling out advice on her syndicated talk radio show, almost 20 years later. "But the funny thing is," Raphael is quick to add, "I never really gave advice! I just listened and let callers know I understood how they felt. That helped them to figure things out themselves."
Raphael hosted her own radio call-in, advice show for six years (1981-87) on NBC's Talknet, and for three years on ABC radio. In 1992, she was honored by the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts as Talk Show Host of the Year, having already received an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1989.
Raphael's own life experience made it easy for her to relate to the problems of others. Success did not come easily to her. Money was often scarce, but self-confidence was not.
"There are some people who achieve success in show business quickly and easily," Raphael reflects. "I was not so blessed, but I was stubborn. For years, I kicked around and took any job that I could find on the air. I got so many jobs -- and lost so many jobs -- that the natural question was, 'Why didn't you just give up?' The answer was: my family wouldn't let me. And l didn't know how to do anything else!"
Before launching her signature talk show on October 17, 1983, Raphael worked as a radio and television broadcaster in 24 cities -- and was fired eighteen times. She tried out for 142 commercial voice-overs -- and never landed one.
Sally remembers what it was like: "Local broadcasting jobs often didn't pay, and they were unreliable. So, almost all my life I held at least two jobs. Even when I started hosting 'Sally Jessy Raphael,' I still taped all day and broadcasted my radio show at night for seven years.
"In Miami, for example, I hosted an hour-and-a-half show live each morning, drove to Ft. Lauderdale to host a talk show from Noon to 1:00 PM and then returned each night to Miami Beach to be a radio disc jockey, and still only earned $500 a week! I took any job I could find -- host of a cooking show (in South America); disc jockey at a classical music station; a puppeteer with marionettes -- because I had a family to support.
"But I stayed in broadcasting. I was a street reporter in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale (FL), New York (NY), San Juan (PR), Hartford and New Haven (CT). I was an anchorwoman in New York and Miami. I was a disc jockey for rock stations in New York, Miami, Pittsburgh (PA) and New Haven.
"I was a stringer, reviewing shows for Variety in Puerto Rico, and a theater critic for the NBC radio network. I hosted so many celebrity interview shows, that, basically, I have talked to about everyone I ever desired to meet."
"I was the victim of a syndrome you often hear women in news talking about: 'Make her hair longer, shorter, blonder, bigger.' In the end, I was manipulated so much physically in so many stations, that, when the chance to do a national radio advice show was offered, I was more than ready." The man who created that winning formula is Maurice Tunick, the network executive who launched NBC's Talknet Radio. Last summer, he was professionally reunited with Sally, as the executive producer of "Sally Jessy Raphael."
Sally continues: "The advice show made me realize how compelling real people's stories are. No two are the same. I became interested in the human condition, as opposed to hard news."
Along the way, Sally raised a brood of children, two biological, one adopted, two stepchildren and three others who shared her home, and her indomitable spirit. By her side through it all has been her husband of 34 years, Karl Soderlund. "We always liked having a lot of kids around us. They're all grown up now. I'm very proud of the successful and interesting lives they have established -- and that they continue to stay in touch."
Charitable causes have always been important to Sally. She continues to lend her time and name to many, including the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, UNICEF, The Falling Star Foundation for Pediatric AIDS, AMFAR and other AIDS organizations, the Children's Cancer Foundation, the YMCA of Greater New York's Campaign for Youth, the National Head Injury Foundation, the NYC Food and Hunger Hotline, the Distinguished Citizens Advisory Board of the American Police Hall of Fame, the Crohns and Colitis Foundation, and many more.
Sally was born in Easton, PA, and raised in Westchester County, NY, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, where her father worked. She still considers Puerto Rico her home. Sally attended Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA, the University of Puerto Rico, and Columbia University in New York, where she earned her B.F.A.
When not working, Sally spends her time with Karl and her family at their homes in Westchester County, NY, New York City and in Buck's County, PA, where she runs a small bed and breakfast called the Isaac Stover House, that she consciously maintains at affordable prices.
Two years ago, Sally, who has always had an interest in art, began spending much of her free time painting. "My mother, Dede Lowry, was a known fine artist whose paintings hang in the Boston and Frick Museums," Sally says. "For whatever reason, as long as she was alive, I could never paint. In August of 1993, however, in the South of France, passing an art store, I spontaneously decided to begin my own artistic life. Now, I maintain my own studio in New York, and paint members of my family when I go away for the summer. I'm still in the learning phase, an artist experimenting, in search of a style. So far, I favor a big, bold, look -- colorful and splashy."
Sally and Karl are also avid adventurers who travel to remote locales. "We have been known to clear a weekend, walk into an airport and ask for the next flight out," says Sally. She loves going where she is not recognized as a celebrity, although that field is quickly narrowing. Favorite recent vacations include Christmas in the Cook Islands, riding elephants at Tiger Tops, Nepal, and two safari's through Africa. Karl and Sally traditionally spend their summer vacation in a different city each year in Europe, inviting friends and staff members to visit.
"We treasure having an extended family," she says. "In many ways, the show reflects the love I have for people."
"Our show is a modern day morality play which often serves as a wake-up call for guests who are on the wrong track." -Sally Jessy RaphaŽl
In a time when talk has been dogged by controversy amidst an ever growing frenzy of competition, the Sally Jessy RaphaŽl show has remained the second-highest rated topical talk show, without sacrificing the integrity that remains its heart and soul.
"We've made a conscious decision to continue tackling human issues," says Sally Jessy RaphaŽl. "Our shows reflect what people ask us to talk about, not what we think they should be interested in. Obviously, we often present extreme examples of common problems."
Over the years, Sally has established herself as a friend, confidante and advisor to her audience and guests, frequently eliciting even the most intimate details of their lives. Close to 75% of the topics discussed come from viewer mail and phone calls.
"Many times the people who come on our show have been isolated in their own realities," Sally continues. "They may be having difficulties with their loved ones, but can't solve them, because both parties feel they are right. They often come on our show to justify their actions, or confront loved ones in front of an impartial jury, so to speak. Hearing the opinions of our audience members, often bluntly stated, helps them to see things they might have been unable -- or unwilling -- to face. In our follow-up discussions, I've heard over and over again that such a moment of recognition can change lives.
"I'm the moderator in this mix -- the intermediary whose job it is to communicate what is happening on-stage. I'm going to allow both sides to hear what's going on, to listen and ask important questions that elicit greater understanding. Often with two emotionally involved people, be it family, lovers or neighbors, arguments become too confrontational. Now there's someone nonjudgmental yet caring to help sort things through, to listen and not to lecture."
What makes Sally so empathetic? As the only talk show host who is a mother of grown children, Sally has a life experience that allows her to identify, on some level, with many of the universal problems she encounters.
Sally Jessy RaphaŽl became the first woman talk show host in the fall of 1982, when a guest appearance on "Braun & Company" in Cincinnati, Ohio, lead to a contact with Multimedia Entertainment.
Sally Jessy RaphaŽl was launched as a local half-hour show in St. Louis, MO, on KSDK-TV, and within six months, Multimedia Entertainment offered the show for national syndication. "In those days, there just weren't strong, opinionated women talking about controversial issues on television," remembers RaphaŽl. "Multimedia dared to do something different -- and succeeded beyond any of our dreams."
In 1987, the show moved to WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT, where it was headquartered for two years. Since the fall of 1989, the hour-long "Sally" show has taped at the Unitel Studios in New York City. During this time, Sally has remained one of the top rated talk shows in an ever-changing market. "We maintain our popularity by constantly reevaluating the zeit geist and adapting to it." says RaphaŽl. Last year, the show increased production values and pacing. It also unveiled a new, cream colored set, with hues, furniture and fabrics reflective of Sally's taste and personality. Consequently, Sally Jessy RaphaŽl increased its demographics for women aged 18-34, by 19% from May '94 to May '95, a clear indication of its across-the-board appeal.
Currently seen in almost 180 markets nationwide, representing 95.1% of the country, and in countries including United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, Thailand, North Africa and Bophuthatswanna, Sally Jessy RaphaŽl continues to remain one of the most popular daytime talk shows internationally as well. It received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show in 1990 and for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1989 from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Producers take care to provide experts who help guide guests and viewers, toward a resolution, when needed. When advisable, therapists are often asked to spend time counseling guests after taping concludes. The show has also provided six months of therapy in many cases, where it is deemed advisable. Update shows (revisiting guests) reveal that people are motivated to improve their lives and their relationships after appearing on "Sally."
Recent examples include:
Sally not only reflects the time and place where we are - but deals with gettiing it into perspective.