Nothing describes Carol Randolph's style and ambitions better than a single 8-by-10 glossy pinned to her office bulletin board: Phil Donahue holds Randolph's hand aloft after a segment of her WDVM show, "Morning Break." And in that pose they look like a campaign manager's dream, the most telegenic standard bearers in political history.
Of course, no one doubts who heads the ticket. Donahue is king of the morning, a television innovator whose autobiography held its own with diets, dead cats and delirious sex. And when the issue is men-who-are-not-afraid-to-show-their-feelings, the talk turns, adoringly, to the man who married That Girl, Marlo Thomas.
Randolph has gradually built for herself a faithful following in the Washington area since her arrival at WDVM 13 years ago. First on "Harambee," a show which focused on the black community, and then on "Morning Break," Randolph has converted a warm personality, a liberal political outlook and a varied, Donahue-esque format into a local success; so much so that D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has proclaimed today "Carol Randolph Appreciation Day."
Last week Randolph hosted a typically easygoing session with three fathers who have played important roles in bringing up baby. All the while their infants crawled, gurgled and pawed, charming the studio audience and the appreciative cameramen. To a degree, the show resembled one of Donahue's more self-satisfied productions. You've seen it: the one in which three sensitive souls testify about their new-found sensitivity, the audience asks a few harmless questions and everyone leaves wearing the glow of longtime converts.
To be fair, though, it may be that shows like Donahue and "Morning Break" helped bring about those conversions in the first place; and besides, you'd hardly expect to see many shows on "Fathers Who Couldn't Care Less About Their Kids."
"Sure," says Randolph. "Donahue is the obvious model. Like him, I think I know the women who are around at home during the day. I identify a great deal with them, black or white. I have a daughter who is 19, and when I was at home when she was younger I felt very isolated in the house. The only thing I could get on TV at that hour was soap operas and really simple game shows. Nothing. But that all changed with Donahue. He believed in the intelligence of the woman sitting out there."
Randolph has not entirely forsaken the time-honored format of daytime talk shows: Mike Douglas chopping a chicken, John Davidson chopping a chicken, Richard Simmons annoying a chicken to death. Viewers of "Morning Break" have heard how to tape their bunions, how to prepare and apply a cucumber mash facial and where to buy "Chinese lantern shorts," one of the ugliest garments ever designed this side of lime-green leisure slacks. Randolph even admits to having eaten popcorn made of ground grasshoppers. And it's got to be pretty deep into cocktail time before you can imagine Edward R. Murrow doing that.
Usually, though, "Morning Break" handles more substantive material: battered wives, child abuse, divorce. Randolph is not politically partisan on the show, but she does talk about personal experiences when the subject warrants it. Married at 19 while still a student at Fisk University, Randolph has told her viewers about her life as a young mother and then as a divorcee. "I've talked about my divorce on the show," says Randolph. "I talked about the pain of having to date, the way the dating game has changed. That kind of honesty breaks down barriers so women can say, 'Oh yeah, she knows, she understands.' "
Just before the clock hit 10 a.m. to begin the Father's Day show, the small studio audience buzzed with compliments for Randolph.
"I love her," said Kate Krupen of Silver Spring. "She can get everyone to talk and feel comfortable."
"She has such a nice, self-effacing manner," said Ware Page. "You can feel it in here even more than you do on television."
While the fathers talked cloth diapers vs. Pampers, Little Peter began chewing on the microphone cord and little Adam practiced his own gnawing technique on a large red doughnut. For 45 minutes the fathers purred on while their children stole the scene; then, an executive from Hecht's plugged some gifts for the "man who has everything."
At the end of the hour, the audience applauded heartily for Carol Randolph, but the infants on the carpet payed an even greater, if muted, tribute: They survived an hour under the hot lights and electronic scrutiny without crying. And that's saying something when you consider how most daytime television can reduce us all to tears.