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Television Talk

with A Guide to Television Talk by Robert J. Erler
Introduction by Horace Newcomb
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  • Book Info
    Television Talk
    Book Description:

    Flip through the channels at any hour of the day or night, and a television talk show is almost certainly on. Whether it offers late-night entertainment with David Letterman, share-your-pain empathy with Oprah Winfrey, trash talk with Jerry Springer, or intellectual give-and-take with Bill Moyers, the talk show is one of television's most popular and enduring formats, with a history as old as the medium itself.

    Bernard Timberg here offers a comprehensive history of the first fifty years of television talk, replete with memorable moments from a wide range of classic talk shows, as well as many of today's most popular programs. Dividing the history into five eras, he shows how the evolution of the television talk show is connected to both broad patterns in American culture and the economic, regulatory, technological, and social history of the broadcasting industry. Robert Erler's "A Guide to Television Talk" complements the text with an extensive "who's who" listing of important people and programs in the history of television talk.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79633-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Horace Newcomb

    Bernard Timberg′s book,Television Talk, appears at a particularly significant moment in the history of talk shows and, equally importantly, in the history of television. It also appears as part of a significant development in the field of television studies, a development marking and marked by changes in the medium and the social relations it fosters and to which it responds.

    As this work makes clear, however, even as those changes occur, the talk show remains a fundamental feature within any economic, social, and cultural formation of television. This long reliance on the form results in part, as Timberg points...

    (pp. 1-18)

    The TV talk show is a creation of twentieth-century broadcasting. It is intensely topical and, like the daily newspaper, has traditionally been considered a disposable form.When one of the founders of the television talk show, Jack Paar, mentioned to his director Hal Gurnee in the early 1960s that he was going to throw away the taped masters from the first years of his show, Gurnee responded, ″You′re not going to throw away the hubs, are you?″ The aluminum hubs of the two-inch video masters were worth $90 at the time.¹ The first ten years of Johnny Carson′sTonightshow were...

  5. TWO THE FIRST CYCLE [1948–1962]: Experimentation, Consolidation, and Network Control—CBS
    (pp. 19-33)

    Before there were ″talk shows″ or talk-show hosts, before the term was even invented or had entered standard dictionaries,¹ there were talk personalities. Without exception, the major talk personalities who appeared on television in the late 1940s and early 1950s had already distinguished themselves on radio. The founders of television talk—Edward R. Murrow and Arthur Godfrey on CBS; Dave Garroway, Arlene Francis, Steve Allen, and Jack Paar on NBC; and Mike Wallace on DuMont—were already pre-sold commodities in that sense. Their reputations as radio hosts helped them raise funds, enlist advertisers, and create new programs. They understood broadcast...

  6. THREE THE FIRST CYCLE, PART II: Experimentation, Consolidation, and Network Control—NBC and DuMont
    (pp. 34-55)

    It is fitting that Sylvester ″Pat″ Weaver, the television executive who had the most to do with the founding forms of television talk, was himself a noted talker. ANew Yorker″Profile″ on Weaver that appeared in the fall of 1954 describes him as a man constantly in motion, issuing a stream of memos and directives from an L-shaped desk in a big, bleached-mahogany-paneled office on the sixth floor of the RCA Building. Sessions with Weaver were stimulating if sometimes confusing. ″It′s rough,″ said one of his assistants. ″Right in the middle of a meeting, the guy will start acting...

  7. FOUR THE SECOND CYCLE [1962–1974]: Network Consolidation and New Challenges
    (pp. 56-71)

    What Sylvester ″Pat″ Weaver set in motion in the mid-1950s had become the dominant pattern in the television industry by the early 1960s. The networks had assumed control over almost every aspect of programming. Although a national economic recession had slowed television′s growth, by the late 1950s almost every American had access to a television—six million sets being sold in 1957 alone.¹ Television now played a dominant role in many areas of American life. For instance, though television news and advertising had influenced the 1952 and 1956 Presidential campaigns,² the ″Great Debates″ between Richard M. Nixon and John F....

  8. FIVE COMPETITIVE FERMENT IN THE LATE SECOND CYCLE: The First Late-Night Talk-Show Wars (1967–1974)
    (pp. 72-88)

    By the end of the 1960s, television viewing was an established fact of life in the United States. By 1967 color television was a strong force in the market, with the number of color sets sold that year equaling the number of monochrome receivers and many families using more than one television set. Late-night television and early fringe-time television were increasingly profitable as more and more viewers integrated television into their daily lives. The talk show took on new visibility particularly during late-night fringe time periods (after 11 p.m.), and nationally syndicated talk began to provide more competition to the...

  9. SIX THE THIRD CYCLE [1974–1980]: Transitions
    (pp. 89-110)

    At the end of 1974 the television industry in general was still in turbulence, but several broad patterns had emerged. For one thing, national syndication was making itself increasingly felt as a competitor to the networks for national talk audiences. In addition, by 1974 public television had proved surprisingly durable and supported a range of new voices and formats in talk television. And 1974 was unusual in that a single national talk event dominated the landscape: the Senate Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon′s resignation. For a time, this single news event, covered selectively by all of the...

  10. SEVEN THE FOURTH CYCLE [1980–1990]: The Post-Network Era
    (pp. 111-146)

    In the early 1980s once again technology and economics drove changes in talk programming. With new video production and distribution systems requiring smaller outlays for producers and marketers, syndicated talk shows became cheaper and easier to produce. In 1981The Merv Griffin Showbecame the first daily talk series to be distributed by satellite, beaming its programs to syndicated stations the same day they were taped—″day and date″ as the process was called.¹ No longer did film prints or videotapes need to be ″bicycled″ from one location to another. The technological changes in the 1950s unified TV talk in...

  11. Late Night with David Letterman photo/chart section
    (pp. None)
  12. ″Press Portraits of TV Talk-Show Stars″ photo section
    (pp. None)
  13. EIGHT THE FIFTH CYCLE [1990–1995]: News as Entertainment
    (pp. 147-174)

    After fifty years on the air, the TV talk show was no longer a vague but somewhat undefined creation of live television. It had emerged as a full-fledged, critically recognized genre, and critics and viewers alike were now taking the talk show seriously.

    In the hands of some host-producer teams TV talk hearkened back to earlier forms; in the hands of others it looked forward to experiments with new blends and directions as the decade came to an end. And in some cases shows simply took older forms and intensified or exaggerated them. Thus, talk shows during the 1990s could...

  14. NINE THE FIFTH CYCLE [1996–2000]: Trash Talk, Nice Talk, and Blended Talk
    (pp. 175-190)

    From a subgenre dominated by four major hosts in the mid-1980s (Donahue, Raphaël, Rivera, and Winfrey), the daytime audience-participation talk show had grown into a thriving industry of over twenty shows broadcast nationally by the mid-1990s. Daytime talk was a billion-dollar industry with an estimated fifty-seven million viewers a week. As an example of the kind of profits that could be made,The Sally Jessy Raphaël Showalone generated $40 million a year in sales and licensing fees. The expansion of the daytime talk show and the new competitive environment stimulated tabloid topics and sensationalism. Two widely circulated pictures dramatized...

    (pp. 191-194)

    The discussion of the convergence of news and entertainment, fiction and reality on television in the 1990s concludes this fifty-year survey of the history of the TV talk show. This history has been designed to provide an overview of TV talk′s unspoken rules, forms, and landmark figures, to describe the guiding principles of the TV talk show as they have evolved historically, and to provide a historical base for defining the TV talk show as a genre. In addition to close-ups, profiles, and case studies, the book explores the cultural role of the talk show in the United States as...

    (pp. 195-203)
    Robert J. Erler and Bernard M. Timberg
    (pp. 204-304)
    Robert J. Erler
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 305-336)
    (pp. 337-342)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 343-364)