EASTON -- "Donahue" came to town today, turning this Eastern Shore community into part of the global electronic village, if only for an hour.
The issue on the nationally syndicated television talk show was the distribution of condoms at Easton High School under a plan proposed by the Talbot County health director, John Ryan, which was eventually voted down by the school board.
The setting was the 60-year-old, recently restored Avalon Theater, which was packed with more than 400 people, almost all Talbot County residents. Tickets, distributed by a radio station Friday, were gone in 20 minutes.
The host, Phil Donahue with his trademark head of thick gray hair, was greeted with thunderous applause when he appeared in the theater about a half-hour before the 9 a.m. start. He wore jeans, topped by an Easton High School letter jacket.
After about 20 minutes of question-and-answer chatting with the crowd, he left to change clothes. Patricia McMillen, the show's executive producer, urged the audience to be lively and speak freely when the broadcast began.
She needn't have worried.
Although Donahue had a bit of trouble getting the first contribution from the crowd, soon hands were raised throughout the room as Eastonians clamored for the microphone. Applause of approval from those on both sides of the issue followed most comments.
Donahue had to work to get in comments from his onstage panel, which included Ryan, Tom Farmer, the high school's student government president, and Sharon Boggess and Jerome Nicolesi, two parents of students opposed to the condom distribution.
Donahue got in the requisite local plugs, for Easton High School's state championship field hockey team and the production of "The Lion in Winter," which currently occupies the Avalon's stage.
"I was very pleased," Donahue said after the show. "I think every community that sees this show will realize that this is an issue that's already been faced in New York, Chicago and San Francisco that they are going to have to deal with."
Donahue quickly grabbed a flight for Dallas after the show. All of his programs are on the road this week. He began on Sunday talking about the possibility of war in the Mideast with people in the American Legion Hall in Kennebunkport, Maine. Yesterday's show was from East St. Louis, Ill., discussing the crisis of funding urban governments.
Other shows are planned for Anchorage, Alaska, on the recriminalization of marijuana, and for Oracle, Ariz., on a futuristic development called Biosphere.
"You learn something every time you go out on the road," Donahue said. "I think every talk show has to do it. It sure beats sitting in an office in a high-rise in Manhattan overlooking the East River."
"I thought it came off beautifully," an Easton official said. "And I got calls from people beforehand saying not to let that man come here, that he would run roughshod over us. But that didn't happen."
McMillen, the executive producer, said, "A lot of times when we go out on the road, people are afraid of what we're going to do. Just yesterday in East St. Louis, someone said, 'Can't you just say one nice thing about us?'
"But people are usually happy because we let them have their say."
This hour of "Donahue" was seen live in Baltimore on WMAR-TV, channel 2, and on WBOC-TV, channel 16, in Salisbury, but will be shown to the rest of the country tomorrow.