For eleven years we waited for the door bell. The door bell was an indication someone was about the get busted. The Ricki Lake Show came on during the early nineties when talk shows were in vogue. Everyone wanting to be the next Donahue or Oprah.
Jenny Jones, Sally Jessie Raphael Montel Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Whoopi Goldberg ,Jerry Springer were just a few of the talk shows on American Television in the 90’s
At 24, Ricki Lake was by far the youngest talk show host. Like most of America, I first saw Ricki as Traci Turnblad in John Waters original “Hairspray” movie The formula on Ricki was the same as most of the other shows however, the guest and topics were aimed towards a younger audience.
While most talks shows of the day, often built an entire show around interracial or gay relationships. Gay and interracial relationships was just another segment on the Ricki Lake Show. . Her show didn’t trivialize or stereotyped interracial and gay relationships.
Step into the WayBack Machine
Race Relations in the 70’s
I grew up in the very liberal, very progressive San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike my older siblings who was born during “The Silent Generation’, I worked, went the school, and socialized with whites and other non blacks,
In the early 70’s ,some of my white friends risked being beaten by their parents and other family members if they were seen with a black person. They would have to hide in our cars to keep from being seen my a friend or neighbor. In the early seventies ,it was unusual to see a member of a different race in the same car back in the day. Going home meant dropping them at a distant bus stop or a mile away for home.
For some black young men, being in the company of whites was often interpreted as losing our way, trying to be white. Our “black’ card was called into question and for a large part of my life, I received the side eye from some members of the black community.
Young women had it much harder. One thing that black and white fathers had in common in the day was, “Hell no-not my daughter!” While young blacks could socialize and even date out of their race with a lot of controversy. Young women faced violence and being ostracized by their family,if they dated out of their race.
In the seventies, men were very aware of gay people in San Francisco, but many of us didn’t socialize due to the fear of being called gay.
Ricki Lake’s audience and the people on her show were the children of Baby Boomers, the generation that first integrated american schools and businesses. There generation (Generation X) were more exposed to the gay community than their parents. more at ease with people of different races and backgrounds.
The Ricki Lake show ,honestly portrayed relationships that were taking place in most urban high schools from Des Moines, Iowa to Portland, Oregon.
To be clear, no one will confuse The Ricki Lake Show with Masterpiece Theater or anything on PBS. The show was mostly standard talk show fair for the period, With an occasional drag queens and make overs. However, for the first time on television, her show normalizing gay* and interracial relationships. Today, it isn’t uncommon to see interracial couples and gay people on television, from Judge Judy to commercials
The Ricki Lake was one of the longest running talk shows on television. After 11 years, Ricki wanted to leave the show to take time to raise her family even though she had committed for an additional 4 years. The show ended in 2004. In 2012, “The New Ricki Lake show” premiered. The talk show was cancelled after one season.
*While two women could kiss on the show, a kiss by two men would be edited out.
An Eleven minute look back at the Ricky Lake Show