Talk Shows

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TALK SHOWS The television talk show is, on the face of it, a rather strange institution. We pay people to talk for us. Like the soap opera, the talk show is an invention of twentieth century broadcasting. It takes a very old form of communication, conversation, and transforms it into a low cost but highly popular form of information and entertainment through the institutions, practices and technologies of television.

The talk show did not originate over night, at one time, or in one place. It developed out of forty years of television practice and antecedent talk traditions from radio, Chatauqua, vaudeville and popular theater. In defining the talk show it is useful to distinguish between "television talk" (unscripted presentational
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Successful talk show hosts like Mike Wallace, Johnny Carson, and Barbara Walters bridge generations of viewers. The longevity of these "super stars" increases their impact on the forms and formats of television talk with which they are associated.

Television talk shows originally emerged out of two central traditions: news and entertainment. Over time hybrid forms developed that mixed news, public affairs, and entertainment. These hybrid forms occupy a middle ground position between news and entertainment, though their hosts (Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, and Geraldo Rivera, for example) often got their training in journalism. Approximately a third of the major talk show hosts listed at the end of the essay came out of news. The other two thirds came from entertainment (comedy in particular).

Within the journalistic tradition, the names Edward R. Murrow, Mike Wallace, Ted Koppel and Bill Moyers stand out. News talk hosts like Murrow, Koppel, and Moyers do not have bands, sidekicks, or a studio audience. Their roles as talk show hosts are extensions of their roles as reporters and news commentators. Their shows appear in evening when more adult and older aged viewers are watching. The morning host teams that mix "happy talk" and information also generally come from the news background. This format was pioneered by NBC's Sylvester "Pat" Weaver and host Dave
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