On January 21, 1985, the daily broadcast of the Donahue show was devoted to a typically unusual subject gay senior citizens. But few people would later remember the topic of that day's show, because as the live broadcast progressed seven members of the audience proceeded to faint. Concerned by the bizarre outbreak of swooning, Donahue cancelled the rest of the show and sent everyone home.
The producers theorized that the hot temperature inside the studio might have caused the people to collapse, but a few days later Deborah Harmon, one of the fainters, admitted she had been paid to do so by the well-known prankster Alan Abel. He had also paid the six other audience members who had fainted.
Abel later explained that the stunt was designed as a protest against the deteriorating quality of daytime talk shows. He claimed that a group called FAINT (Fight Against Idiotic Neurotic TV) had spearheaded the protest. "We want to raise the consciousness of the public by going unconscious," he said.
The stunt attracted more censure than any of Abel's other pranks because critics charged that it could have inspired panic at a time when there was public concern over the possible spread of Legionnaire's disease.