Whatever Happened To These 90s Talk Show Hosts?

People who were around in the 1990s love to defend their favorite shows from the time, but when you strip away all nostalgia value and actually sit down to re-watch these shows today, it quickly becomes clear that '90s television has aged. In some cases, it's aged terribly. The truth about The X-Files is that it went downhill very fast, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is kind of cringeworthy in places, too. Even the cultural phenomenon that was Friends doesn't always hold up that well in the 2020s. But at least the stars of the decade's most beloved shows are all still famous to some degree, something that cannot be said for the vast majority of '90s talk show hosts.

In the 1990s, the talk show ruled daytime TV. There was a huge spike in so-called tabloid talk shows, where ordinary people were invited (and, in most cases, encouraged) to air their dirty laundry in front of a live studio audience and millions of viewers watching at home. Some shows kept it a little classier, but all the biggies had one thing in common — an instantly recognizable host. '90s talk show hosts were some of the most popular and powerful media personalities of their day, but apart from a couple of notable exceptions, they've all fallen off the radar.

Whatever happened to the likes of Ricki Lake, Montel Williams, Sally Jessy Raphael, Maury Povich, and Jerry (JERRY! JERRY!) Springer? Here's where they've all been hiding.

Geraldo Rivera is better known for his gaffes nowadays

When daytime talk show Geraldo finished in 1998, host Geraldo Rivera moved back into journalism. The former Eyewitness News reporter became a war correspondent for Fox News in 2001, joining the network a few months after the 9/11 attacks. He was sent to both Afghanistan and Iraq, but he didn't exactly cover himself in glory — he was kicked out of the latter country following an embarrassing and dangerous gaffe.

In a now infamous report, Rivera drew a map in the sand and proceeded to explain exactly how the unit he was with planned to proceed. "The commander felt that he had compromised operational information by reporting the position and movements of troops," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Reuters (via CNN). "He will be dropped at the Kuwaiti border," a second Pentagon official confirmed. 

His fame has been diminishing ever since, and today he's better known for his intermittent blunders than anything else. Rivera was widely mocked in 2012 when he blamed hoodies for the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, and he was back in the headlines the following year when he tweeted a near-naked selfie after a late-night drinking session. More recently, Rivera's attracted negative attention for his reporting on the coronavirus. On a March 2020 episode of Fox & Friends (via Mediaite), Rivera stated that if you were able to hold your breath for 10 seconds, then you didn't have COVID-19, which had already been debunked by experts.

Sally Jessy Raphael blames producers for her talk show's downfall

Sally Jessy Raphael and her signature red spectacles were a staple of daytime TV for almost two decades. Her eponymous talk show (which ran from 1983 until 2002) didn't cover tabloid-style stories in the early days, but that all changed in the '90s. When her rowdy rivals started to run away with the ratings, producers pushed Raphael to pivot into more sensationalistic territory. "The last years of doing those Maury Povich/Jerry Springer shows? I hated them," she told People in 2016. "I was betrayed by some of the producers into doing that. Come to think of it, I should have fought harder for what I knew was right."

This desperate shift in style and content was the beginning of the end, but what really killed Raphael's talk show was her cancer diagnosis. Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2019, she claimed that producers decided to throw in the towel when she told them about her treatment. "All they needed was a 60-year-old that might have cancer," Raphael said. "I was stupid enough to tell them."

Raphael lost her TV career, but she beat the cancer. Today, she lives in New York with her husband of over 50 years, Karl Soderlund. While there's clearly still some ill-feeling about how she was dumped, this '90s star remembers her glory days fondly. "What makes me proud is the number of people over the years, and today, who say I helped them," she said. "I changed their lives."

Montel Williams has been fighting a devastating disease

The Montel Williams Show ceased production in 2008 after 17 years on the air, but the former host has never stopped trying to help people. The former military man (Montel Williams served in the United States Marine Corps and later became a commissioned a Naval Officer) is nowhere near as prominent today as he was in the '90s, though he's been working just as hard behind the scenes, becoming an advocate for a number of causes close to his heart. 

At a brunch held during the Republican National Convention in 2016, attended by GOP members who support LGBTQ+ equality, he reportedly railed against discriminatory measures like the so-called "bathroom bills" that dictate which restrooms transgender individuals are permitted to use. "Too often we hear religious liberty used as a justification for legislative ideas that marginalize the LGBT community," Williams said (via The Blaze). "We are all equal in the eyes of the Lord."

Williams is also a strong proponent of the legalization of medical marijuana, which he's used himself since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. In 2016, he announced that he was creating his own line of cannabis specifically for those who use it for pain management, though he ran into some trouble when sketchy online CBD suppliers started using his name to sell their dubious products. In 2020, Williams launched a new venture called My MS: Second Act, an initiative aimed at educating the MS community on the disease.

Maury Povich is a talk show circuit survivor

Like most daytime talk shows at the time, Maury underwent a major facelift in the 1990s. It began life as The Maury Povich Show in 1991, covering what host Maury Povich described as "timid subjects" in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. The show took a hard turn toward tabloid-style content at the mid-point of the decade, however, and it never looked back. Producers made a deal with a diagnostics firm and Maury began televising paternity reveals, which drew in the viewers but didn't go down very well with critics. "His daytime chat fest jumped the shark as soon as he uttered the words, 'You are NOT the father!'" the New York Post wrote in 2013, placing Maury on its list of the worst shows on TV.

Yet, despite the criticism that his show and his tactics sometimes receive, Povich is still around. Maury may have peaked in the '90s, but its host is still delivering on-air paternity tests (in 2019, Povich revealed that he doesn't know the result before the big reveal). And people still tune in to watch it — it's been renewed up until 2021-22, which will be Maury's 24th season in syndication. According to Broadcasting Cable, Maury was the fifth-ranked talk show in syndication as of February 2020, something the host never takes for granted. "There are 75 daytime talk shows in the graveyard, so you worry about that all the time," he told USA Today. "You just don't want to go to the cemetery."

Jenny Jones went from talk show host to YouTuber cook

The Jenny Jones Show was a trailblazer, in that it was the first daytime talk show to feature musical guests. Usher, Ludacris, and Nelly all made their first nationally televised appearances on the show, and host Jenny Jones also gave airtime to smaller, local bands from the Chicago area, something that should be applauded. Sadly, most people remember Jones' show for a terrible tragedy.

In 1995, a man named Jonathan Schmitz was invited to attend a taping of The Jenny Jones Show. Producers informed him that he had a secret admirer who would be revealed to him on camera. Being straight, Schmitz assumed his admirer was female, but it turned out to be a man named Scott Amedure, an acquaintance of his. Schmitz was clearly very embarrassed, but seemed happy to laugh the whole thing off. A few days later, he purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and murdered Amedure in cold blood.

Jones was heavily criticized for her part in the tragedy. Many felt that she exploited both men, but the host stood firm and refused to ditch her secret admirer segments. The show was initially ordered to pay a sum of $29 million to Amedure's family, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that decision in 2002. Jones' show was canned the following year and she became irrelevant as the noughties rolled on, but loyal Jenny fans can still occasionally catch her on YouTube, where she has over 800,000 subscribers on her cutesy cooking channel.

Arsenio Hall's talk show stint peaked too early

The Arsenio Hall Show was second only to The Tonight Show in ratings during the early '90s, scooping up the 18-to-30-something crowd. Arsenio Hall's interviews weren't particularly hard-hitting ("I'm not there to put a wrench in anybody's persona," he told the Orlando Sentinel), but the energy on his show was electric, with audiences encouraged to pump their fists and whoop in unison instead of clapping. The gesture became so well-known that it was even referenced in Disney's Aladdin (1992). "It's so popular it's getting on people's nerves," Hall admitted.

Hall has been in and out of the public eye since his show was cancelled in 1994. He bounced back into the spotlight in 2012 when he won the fifth season of Celebrity Apprentice, and the following year The Arsenio Hall Show was resurrected. The viewers just weren't turning out for the show, however, and execs pulled the plug after a single season. "While there are many loyal fans of the show, the series did not grow its audience enough to continue," CBS said in a statement (via TV Guide).

The swift cancellation was a blow for Hall, and things haven't really gone his way since. He was involved in a legal dispute with Sinead O'Connor in 2016 (the singer seemed to imply that Hall supplied Prince with drugs prior to his death, but she later denied that and issued an apology), and the response to his 2019 Netflix special Smart & Classy was lukewarm at best.

Longtime talk show host Jerry Springer is a judge now

It's hard to believe today, but back in the 1990s, Jerry Springer had higher ratings than The Oprah Winfrey Show for a spell. The former politician (he was mayor of Cincinnati before becoming a talk show host) debuted The Jerry Springer Show in 1991, intending to talk about real issues and keep things sensible. That all went out the window when producers realized more people tuned in when the drama was dialed up to ridiculous.

What people seemed to love the most about The Jerry Springer Show were the fights. "The first time it went crazy it was scary, because we didn't have any security," Springer told Columbia Journalism Review. "We did a show on the Ku Klux Klan, and literally a riot broke out. Some people from the audience charged the stage, and for about 15 minutes people were fighting." The KKK brawl made the list of the top 20 fights ever when the show celebrated its 20th birthday. Remarkably, The Jerry Springer Show carried on for almost another decade — the final chair was thrown in 2018, during the show's 27th and final season.

Of course, Springer has been on numerous other TV shows over the years (he's a Dancing With the Stars alum and hosted two seasons of America's Got Talent), proving that he's versatile. Now that his talk show is history, he's adjusting to life in the courtroom — Springer's latest show, Judge Jerry, is being shown in every syndication market in America.

Ricki Lake is raising awareness on issues close to her heart

Ricki Lake was an actress before she became a staple of 90s daytime TV, best known as the star of John Waters' cult classic, Hairspray. She's returned to acting on a handful of occasions since her long-running talk show, Ricki Lake, ended in 2004, but nowadays she's less about entertaining people and more about empowering them.

After giving birth on camera for her acclaimed documentary, The Business of Being Born, Lake decided to make raising awareness of women's issues her priority. She released a book entitled Your Best Birth and produced another documentary, this one examining the risks and rewards of breastfeeding. "I don't pretend to be an expert in all things pertaining to women's health, but I've made it my duty to empower women with both the answers and questions they need," she told the Los Angeles Times.

In 2019, Lake was a contestant on The Masked Singer, showing off her singing voice. She dedicated her run on the show to her late ex-husband, Christian Evans, who took his own life two years earlier after a long battle with bipolar disorder. In January 2020, Lake revealed that she had experienced suicidal thoughts of her own, triggered by years of hair loss. She decided that the best way to regain control was to get a buzz cut. "I feel like I've been set free," she told Good Morning America.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.