What does a Talk Show Host do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A talk show host is the central element of a talk show. Whether mediating discussions, bringing in experts to educate the audience, or interviewing celebrities, the talk show host is the face of the show. Becoming the host of a talk show is a complicated career path, but most well-known hosts have a background in journalism or entertainment.

A radio talk show host may serve as an educator.
A radio talk show host may serve as an educator.

A talk show host will appear in the vast majority of episodes, providing the show with a stable central figure. In recognition of the importance of the job, many talk shows are named after the host. Television talk show hosts typically are awarded a talk show after already achieving some fame with the public; according to some media experts, having an identifiable host makes it more likely that viewers will watch the show. In radio, talk show hosts are more likely to be recognized experts in their field, but may also achieve some form of celebrity to listeners or the general public.

Ryan Seacrest is an example of a radio show host who also serves as a host of television programs.
Ryan Seacrest is an example of a radio show host who also serves as a host of television programs.

Depending on the format of the show, the host may serve as a mediator, interviewer, or an educator. Mediators typically invite guests on the show to discuss a topic, and may ask questions, direct the flow of conversation, or even participate with their own expertise. Educators often host advice shows, dispensing wisdom about a variety of topics from nutrition, to maintaining cars, to personal relationships. On an interview-based talk show, the host typically questions a famous or expert guest about a wide variety of subjects.

Although some talk show hosts specialize in one format, many combine all three to provide a varied program. Some famous shows feature episodic topics that may be explored by interviews, discussions, and education all in one show. Both varied and single-format shows seek to create an audience base that is interested enough in the show to tune in for each new episode; one way of gaining a loyal audience is to have a talk show host that attracts viewers or listeners through their personality and style.

There is no set path to becoming a talk show host. Some work as TV or radio journalists, gaining credibility, contacts, and public exposure through a news-based career. Others are celebrities, such as actors or models, who are hired to run a talk show because it is believed that their name or personality will draw viewers. Radio or TV interns or assistants often develop their careers by gaining enough credibility at their station to be allowed to substitute if a regular host is ill or absent. Performing well as a substitute host can eventually lead to opportunities for a new show.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


A good talk show host, like David Letterman or Conan O'Brien, makes it looks easy, but there's a lot of pressure on these performers to keep the show moving. Producers pre-interview the guests so the talk show host can set them up for a few funny stories and a plug for their book or movie. It's not just a friendly conversation, but the guest is usually prepped to make it sound natural.

I've met a few talk radio show personalities through my job, and most of them are really sharp people off-air. They're just playing a character when they get to the studio and sit behind the microphone. I think it would be an interesting line of work.


I think most successful talk show hosts have larger-than-life personalities to start with. I don't think you could be a liberal or conservative radio talk show host without having strong opinions on just about every issue out there. I listened to a lot of local talk radio when I was growing up, and most of the talk show hosts had big followings in the area. It's definitely not a job for social introverts.

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