Talk Show Legend Phil Donahue, 88, and Wife of 44 Years Marlo Thomas on Life Now: 'Netflix and Phil' (Exclusive)

Donahue also tells PEOPLE he "occasionally" misses his career: "Sometimes I’ll shout my question to a guest on the screen and hope they’ll somehow hear me"

<p>Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty</p> Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas in 2020

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas in 2020

Last week, Phil Donahue returned to the spotlight to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden.

“I was very moved,” the talk show icon, 88, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Being inside the historic White House — man, that can really play on your heartstrings.”

While racking up awards is just part of the job for Donahue, who has 20 Emmys to his name, and wife Marlo Thomas, who earned her own Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014, most of the time, life at home is typically quieter.

“Being forced to quarantine during the pandemic taught us how great it was to slow down and hang out, but then the hectic schedule started again,” Thomas, 86, explains. “So we’re determined to get back to a slower pace, and that means curling up on the couch in front of the TV with a big bowl of popcorn. I like to call it ‘Netflix and Phil.’ “

<p>Kent Nishimura/Getty</p> Phil Donahue receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 3, 2024

Kent Nishimura/Getty

Phil Donahue receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 3, 2024

Though Thomas describes her husband of 44 years as a “news junkie,” he does admit to keeping up with daytime talk shows — a genre he helped create from the 1970s onward.

“I do miss it occasionally,” says Donahue, who went off the air in 1996. “Sometimes I’ll shout my question to a guest on the screen and hope they’ll somehow hear me. But to be honest, even though the medium has changed a bit — the sets are fancier, the productions are slicker, and the hosts are thankfully more diverse — all of the talk shows still cleave to the one thing that laid at the foundation of the 7,000 episodes I taped, and that’s curiosity. I still believe that, despite our differences, we’re all part of this sprawling global family, and we just need to get to know each other, so that we can share the world together.”

Related: Marlo Thomas Celebrates Husband Phil Donahue's 88th Birthday by Toasting a Custom Cocktail with Pals (Exclusive)

To that end, Thomas maintains an active presence on Instagram, where she shares sweet moments with Donahue, throwback photos from her early acting days and details on her Williams-Sonoma collection.

“When you’re on television or in films, you know your fans are out there and you can feel their support in a cosmic kind of way. But when you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you can actually interact with each other. It’s so much more real,” she says. “We can have a conversation.”

<p>Bettman</p> Phil Donahue receiving his Emmys.


Phil Donahue receiving his Emmys.

Notes from fans to Thomas often touch on her early projects like the series That Girl and the kids’ album Free to Be … You and Me, which came out in 1965 and 1972 respectively.

“They were both the first of their kind,” Thomas explains. “That Girl was the first series to show the life of a working woman who was figuring out who she was and what her dreams were before giving any thought to getting married.”

<p>Courtesy of Marlo Thomas</p> Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas on May 3, 2024

Courtesy of Marlo Thomas

Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas on May 3, 2024

Related: Marlo Thomas Says ‘Love, Listening and Lust’ Keeps Her 43-Year Marriage to Phil Donahue Strong (Exclusive)

That take on feminism is a thread Donahue and Thomas have carried through their lives. Donahue’s 1979 PEOPLE cover called him “TV’s Favorite Feminist,” though he says he “was learning about modern feminism right alongside the rest of America.”

“I just happened to have a closer seat,” he adds, “talking personally to some of the greatest feminists of our time: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Jane Fonda, Shirley Chisholm, Geraldine Ferraro — and the gorgeous feminist I ended up marrying.”

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So as the couple returns from the whirlwind moment in D.C., what’s next? A focus on their 45th wedding anniversary next year (they hope to visit their favorite beach in Barbados) and finding the perfect spot at home for Donahue’s new hardware.

“We don’t have a trophy room even though we could probably use one for Phil — the man won 20 Emmys,” Thomas says. ”But we keep our awards in our own studies. The medals, however, are different. I had mine framed, and I can’t wait to frame Phil’s and hang it right next to it.”

“His and hers medals, side by side,” adds Donahue. “In a way, it’s kinda romantic.”

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