Talk Shows

David Letterman...Ricki Lake... Jerry Springer... Rosie O'Donnell...Queen Latifah...

Montell Williams... Jenny Jones... Donny & Marie... Oprah.

It seems that, in America at least, audiences display an endless desire for TV talk. As these shows are cheap and easy to produce (a presenter, a research team, an array of bizarre guests plus a studio audience) TV companies are happy to meet that demand. They seem to fulfil a very basic human need, technically known as "downward comparison" (ie comparing yourself with ppl you think are less pretty/thin/rich/intelligent/socially skilled/well-dressed than you are). shows are a popular vehicle and may satisfy viewers' needs to feel better about themselves. Self-enhancement, or feeling better about oneself and one's life, may be one of the primary reasons people watch what some consider to be "trashy" TV talk programs.


Flick through the main US (or UK) channels around 10am on a weekday morning and all you will find is talk. These shows (and their hosts) are intensely competitive, constantly seeking to provoke, amuse and outrage their audiences more than their rivals. New shows are continually being launched, fronted by a bewildering array of ex-politicians, movie actors, comedians, pop stars and career presenters, and just as frequently being cancelled when they fail to hold their audience share.

Talk shows are an important part of TV programming. They are relatively cheap to produce, and,in taking humanity as their subject, have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new material. As they are filmed live or as live, they will never knowingly repeat themselves, and have the vital-for-TV spice of spontaneity. They are supposedly unscripted and unpredictable, and audiences watch them to see what happens, to see what guests will say, and these audiences will tune in day after day, week after week.

Celebrity TV

There are two types of talk shows. The first type involve a presenter plus celebrity guests, who appear singly or in pairs to talk about current events/movies/books/scandals etc. These are generally well-behaved affairs - often the celebrity guest approves a list of questions beforehand - and the atmosphere can be one of backslapping and bonhomie, although the very best presenters do gain a reputation for sly digs at their guests. These shows usually have a regular, daily, evening slot, and purport to reflect what is going on in the world, with "hot" guests, and cynical humour. The most famous of these are:

Look at the different guests lined up daily for each show. These three presenters are highly-paid celebrities themselves, and all have their own style - Larry King is more hard-edged and political.

This sort of talk show is important for TV programming for the evenings. A whole schedule can be built around a show eg The Letterman Show as it has a guaranteed audience, and will provide original viewing on a daily basis. A talk show of this sort will attract viewers both on the strength of its host and on the topicality and interest of its guests. What makes a good evening talk show? Create your own fantasy talk show by clicking the button on the right.

Reality Bites

The second type of talk show does not involve celebrity guests, although the presenters may be celebrities and have become brand names in their own right. These are "issue-based" talk shows, where the research team trawl the population for guests who have a unique contribution to make on such subjects as "I Stole My Daughter's Man" or "I'm Too Fat To Fly". These shows purport to deal with the reality of human existence, and provide a forum (involving contributions from the presenter, guests, members of the studio audience and telephone callers) for the discussion of what is wrong with humanity. Some TV Talk shows claim to help people; by airing problems both viewers and guests may have a chance of catharsis. However, the most popular shows are those which contain fighting...

Many critics worry that talk shows present a corrupt, distorted view of American life, and that they encourage violence and aggression. They are also accused of exposing people's private lives for the sake of entertainment and of making guests emotional problems worse. Some talk show hosts have been sued by their guests for invasion of privacy. The Jenny Jones Show was charged with responsibility for murder after Scott Amedure was shot by Jonathan Schmitz after they had both been guests on the show in 1995. Although this charge was thrown out, Amedure's family successfully brought a civil case against the show and were awarded US$25million. Read about the issues here or visit a CyberMemorial.

Daytime TV talk shows are considered filler tv ie they are cheap and easy to produce and can fill up large parts of the daytime tv schedule.


More to come, this is still

Useful Sites (for a listing of the main US shows' sites)

The Jerry Springer Official Website - "meet Jerry", and suggest a topic for a future show...

Articles About Jerry Springer

'I Married A Horse'- Morality In The Media on this particular episode of Springer

Trisha - an excellent site, all the details you need to know, plus a virtual tour of the studio

Ricki Lake Show - lots of interactive stuff

How To Appear on A Daytime Talk Show - it's more difficult than you may think.

Talking Trash - A Defence of Talk Shows by Camille Paglia

The Nicer Future of TV Talk? profile of Letterman