I taped The Late, LateShow with Craig Ferguson the other night because Neil Gaiman was one of his guests. I’d never seen Ferguson’s show before because I’m not up late, late and because I’d never seen him before I didn’t know he’s a pretty funny guy. A bit edgy; okay, a bit raunchy. . . he is, after all, on late, late. As I watched his opening monologue, I thought I might tape him more regularly because he is a bit edgier but mostly because of the Scottish accent.
As he and Neil started chatting, my brain did one of those “what the heck” slides it so often does as I process some of the oddly disconnecting perceptions I have. I started thinking about the folks who are or will soon have TV talk shows. And the distinction of “TV talk show host” is important. Rosie O’Donnell is already trying to shrug off Oprah’s shadow as she steps into her time slot and her studio. Katie Couric is rumored to be starting a daytime talk show. Queen Latifah, who was trying to launch a different kind of recording career using her given name, Dana Owens, is to start her daytime TV talk show in 2013.
Now the radio talk show host has a show during which he or she talks about whatever is on his or her mind. People tune in to Mike & Mike to listen to two men talk about sports. They argue, ridicule each other’s ideas, analyze events, speculate, and more. All about sports. Other radio talk show hosts have an occasional guest, but it’s mostly about the host talking.
So the format of the TV talk show has to be different because everyone is on television. I know, duh. But because we can see them as well as hear them, the interaction between the host and the audience is different. The host has a live audience plus a camera. The host and their guests have an audience they can see and hear. As far as the radio talk show host knows, he or she is talking to the microphone. Period. They may know they have an audience, especially if they have listeners call in, but there are few other people in the room to react to what they say and they have to be sufficiently comfortable just talking for an hour or so.
Stay with me. The folks who do TV talk shows tend to be comedians or former newsies. They are, in a word, “performers.” What do they do for a living when they aren’t doing a TV talk show? Performing. Talking. In the case of the newsies, talking, analyzing, and talking some more. So what don’t they do? Listen. Sure, Katie Couric has done some great interviews as has Barbara Walters (The View), but they like to analyze what the interviewee is saying to try to ask more incisive questions because then they really want to analyze more deeply and. . . commentate. Yep, that’s a fancy word for talk.
Back to Craig Ferguson. I wanted to hear Neil Gaiman talk about his writing, his interests, his fascinating marriage to the even more fascinatingly quirky, weird, possibly disturbing Amanda Palmer. But Craig kept talking over him. Interrupting Neil with one-liners. My brain already started its sliding thing during the Zooey Deschanel “interview,” but I realized why I stopped taping or watching any of these talk shows. . .except for the monologue though I occasionally watch Graham Norton on BBC and not just for the accent. Anyway. I stopped watching these shows because of what I’ve been doing this whole post. Digressing, looping back over my own thoughts. But I’m writing. I’m not sitting down with someone with the knowledge that some people are tuning in as much for my guests as for me.
I suppose talk shows are all about the brand of the host. People probably watch The Ellen DeGeneres show because of Ellen; they like her, they like her style. For them, the guests are gravy. Bonus features. Because then they get to see their talk show idol interact with other people who may or may not be famous or they’ll get to see or experience their talk show idol do something incredibly amazing and generous. We all know Oprah was famous for those absurd give-aways and Ellen seems to be doing similar kinds of give-aways, except they’re about the audience rather than the host.
Talk. Show. Host. “Talk” modifies “show” to tell you what kind of show it is. “Talk” and “show” modify “host” so you know what kind of host it is. Each of these individuals is the host of a talk show. That happens to be on TV. So if you’re like me and you’re expecting the host to be a thoughtful listener, a good interviewer who actually allows his or her guests to speak rather than try to deliver one-liners or crack jokes over them, then you will be disappointed. Or you might be entertained because maybe the whole point of the talk show guest is to promote the album or movie or book or whatever and to try to keep up with comic yammerings of the host whose main job is to make sure the promotional event is reasonably entertaining because we’ve all seen those guests who can’t seem to talk about anything if they don’t have a script so the comedic antics of the host actually saves them. And that, my friends, is entertainment.