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All Talk

All Talk: The Talkshow in Media Culture

Wayne Munson
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    All Talk
    Book Description:

    Wayne Munson examines the talkshow as a cultural form whose curious productivity has become vital to America's image economy. As the very name suggests, the talkshow is both interpersonal exchange and mediated spectacle. Its range of topics defies classification: from the sensational and bizarre, to the conventional and the advisory, to politics and world affairs. Munson grapples with the sense and nonsense of the talkshow, particularly its audience participation and its construction of knowledge.

    This hybrid genre includes the news/talk "magazine," celebrity chat, sports talk, psychotalk, public affairs forum, talk/service program, and call-in interview show. All share characteristics of lucidity and contradiction-the hallmarks of postmodernity-and it is this postmodern identity that Munson examines and links to mass and popular culture, the public sphere, and contemporary political economy.

    Munson takes a close look at the talkshow's history, programs, production methods, and the "talk"aboutit that pervades media culture-the press, broadcasting, and Hollywood. He analyzes individual shows such as "Geraldo," "The Morton Downey Show," "The McLaughlin Group," and radio call-in "squawk" programs, as well as movies such asTalk RadioandThe King of Comedythat investigate the talkshow's peculiar status. Munson also examines such events as the political organizing of talkhosts and their role in the antitax and anti-incumbency groundswells of the 1990s. In so doing, Munson demonstrates how "infotainment" is rooted in a deliberate uncertainty. The ultimate parasitic media form, the talkshow promiscuously indulges in-and even celebrated-its dependencies and contradictions. It "works" by "playing" with boundaries and identities to personalize the political and politicize the personal. Arguing that the talkshow's form and host are productively ill-defined, Munson asks whether the genre is a degradation of public life or part of a new, revitalized public sphere in which audiences are finally and fully "heard" through interactive.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0428-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction The Sense of the Talkshow
    (pp. 1-18)

    Radio talk host Barry Champlain, in the filmTalk Radio,introduces his nightly show as “the last neighborhood in America.” He sees himself, his listeners, and his callers as “stuck with each other” in an inescapable love-hate attraction he cannot explain except as “addictive.” His assessment of the talkshow: “Marvelous technology at our disposal—instead of reaching up to new heights, we’re going to see how far down we can go, how deep into the muck we can immerse ourselves.” New York radio personality Steve Post once similarly characterized the call-in show as something that “should have, and could have,...

  5. 1 Turning to Talk: The Talkshow’s Development
    (pp. 19-62)

    The talkshow, no less than any other programming format, adheres to the network rule of “safety first”; the result, according to Todd Gitlin, is recombination, “the triumph of the synthetic”—spinoffs, copies, a handful of thinly disguised yet repeated formulas. Recombination—low-risk, standardizing, and cost-efficient, innovating no more than necessary to be profitable—nevertheless requires a degree of novelty, a just-sufficient dose of the modernist, “make it new” sensibility that arose with Romanticism. For Gitlin, consumer society’s genius is “its ability to convert the desire for change into a desire for novel goods.”¹ The novel and the newspaper were Western...

  6. 2 Constellations of Voices: How Talkshows Work
    (pp. 63-108)

    The productive instability of the talkshow is hardly an accident. It is a part of the industry’s intentionality in developing and producing “infotainment” for a multichannel media environment In which the spectator with remote control in hand is a “grazer”—a random access “player” who “interacts” with an expanded set of channels. With the advent of cable and the demise of broadcast scarcity, asserts Robert Pittman, developer of MTV andThe Morton Downey, Jr., Show,diversification is the strategy. Rather than displacing any news programs,Downeyrepresented the growing diversification (already achieved in entertainment) of the news and information genre....

  7. 3 Making Sense and Nonsense: Talk about the Talkshow
    (pp. 109-148)

    Boston radio talk host Jerry Williams calls talk radio “the greatest forum for citizens in history.” Laura Jackson, producer of the Philadelphia psychological advice programFamily Matters,boasts that her show provides a therapeutic network of people helping one another—a community that would not exist without the program’s call-in participation.Yet Talk Radio’s author and performer, Eric Bogosian, labels his film’s talk host character a “sociopath” and sees the 1980s growth of the genre as a “fad.” During the early months of 1989, some members of the Massachusetts state legislature frequently objected to “government by talk show” while others...

  8. Postscript A New Sense of Place
    (pp. 149-156)

    By the winter of 1990,America’s Funniest Home Videoshad become one of the most popular shows on television. It is a combination game and participation show for which viewers send in amusing video clips to compete for cash prizes: $10,000 to the funniest, as judged by a technique used back in the 1950S inStand Up and Be Counted!andQueen for a Day—the studio audience’s electronic vote. The finalists are seated in the audience.

    Judging from the homey set, we have been invited into the host’s living room to watch some home videos. Most of the entries...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-200)
  10. Index
    (pp. 201-216)