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Talk shows are television programs in which a host — and sometimes a sidekick — sits down with entertainers, newsmakers, and other people, to talk. Some incorporate additional segments, like cooking demonstrations or sketches, but others focus on a discussion between the host and the guest. There are a wide variety of talk shows on television, covering everything from everyday people to actors with a new movie to publicize.
This type of program, sometimes known as a chat show, was one of the earliest formats created for television. Early hosts, such as Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, and Garry Moore, combined interview segments with sketch comedy, musical numbers, and improvised audience participation. The basic premise was to bring on popular entertainers or newsmakers for live interviews with a quick-witted host. The audience would be entertained by the anecdotes of the guests or the improvised quips of the host or sidekick.
By the late 1960s, the format became more focused on the interviews themselves, leaving the sketches and improvisations to the variety shows. Hosts such as Dick Cavett, David Frost, Mike Douglas, and Tom Snyder all became household names through their personal interview styles. Guests on these programs were encouraged to do more than simply promote an upcoming film or musical album. Cavett and Snyder were especially adept at the "talking heads" format, drawing their guests into lengthy academic discussions and using tight close-up shots.
By the 1980s, the talk show format had once again shifted from academic interviews to a more confrontational style, with hosts such as Jerry Springer, Phil Donahue, Maury Povich, and Oprah Winfrey often booking controversial guests. Some critics of this style believed the producers were simply pandering to the audience's taste for controversy, not presenting a legitimate exploration of the subject at hand. Several of the more controversial shows did not last for long, while others changed their formats back to the traditionally cordial guest/host relationship.
The modern format runs the gamut from controversial tabloid shows to the established late night comedy shows hosted by such names as David Letterman, Jimmie Kimmel, Conan O'Brien, and Craig Ferguson. The syndicated talk show format is often a combination of musical performances, audience interaction, and short celebrity interviews. Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres or Rachel Ray are often recruited to host syndicated talk shows, since they can be produced quickly and not affect the talents' other professional obligations.
Local television stations also produce their own versions, since they do not require elaborate sets or difficult camera movements. It's not unusual for a local cable access program to duplicate the basic format as well. These local efforts may not have the technical sophistication of a professional version, but they do provide a way of disseminating events of interest to local viewers.
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