The Genre of Talk Shows

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Nicole Lubel
October 28, 2012
Leadership Project

The Genre of Talk
“ Talk Shows will never be in trouble because of the subject matter. The more controversial, the bigger the shows get” ( Abt, Mustazza). In our public sphere today we see a disturbing trend arise with the popularity of lowbrow, emotional, and chaotic genre called “trash television.” For decades, television has been an important resource to help Americans stay informed and entertained as well. In addition to news programs, variety shows, comedy, drama, and sports; the genre of the “talk show” has evolved as a staple source of programming. Talk shows began during the daytime, as a source of entertainment for women and veterans of war who were mainly in charge of tasks at home. From Phil Donahue to Oprah Winfrey, Americans have shown a passion for daytime talk show programming. Donahue and Winfrey have evolved as television cultural icons for viewers right in the comfort of their own homes. As we have witnessed today, however, the goal of other talk shows, such as Maury and The Jerry Springer Show is clearly to shock and entertain and not inform. Thus, today many daytime talk shows have evolved into nothing more than the “freak” and the “geek” strutting around on stage providing entertainment for millions of Americans ( Quail, Razzano, Skalli). They are in the forefront of broadcast television, and syndicated to audiences through cable, satellite, and Internet. These shows ratings have improved which is detrimental to the public sphere due to the nature of the private topics they explore. This raises the question as to what has happened to make these talk shows evolve into negative models in our public sphere. What has lead to the hostile and confrontational discourse on which these shows feed? Over the years talk shows have evolved from radio stations to television. After World War II talk shows became a major hit because of the need for relatively inexpensive programming. Talk shows were initially relied on due to FCC regulations that were instituted in the 1970’s. These rules prohibited networks from airing their shows during certain hours to give space to their affiliates ( Abt, Mustazza). This created syndication in the television markets which encouraged station affiliates to purchase air-syndicated programs from other networks. With this process in place talk shows were always the first shows to be picked up by another network because of their inexpensive nature and popularity ( Timberg). As Americans have witnessed, there has become a central issue emerging in the talk show literature where the genres include a wide variety of different forms of talk shows. We typically see three different types or categories of shows. These categories include shows like Phil Donahue, which include a focus on public discussion in regards to issues of concern, Jerry Springer, which portray an Emotional Public Sphere and try to focus on conflict and emotive secrets that should not be shared with millions of strangers, and shows like Oprah, who brings a therapeutic approach to personal problems (Lunt, Stenner). All of the talk show hosts have evolved over time in the limelight of the public sphere, even these conflict talk shows that seem less credible. In regards to the public sphere, we as citizens see these conceptions have weakened through historical time, since chronologically the public discussion format emerged first and the conflict format last ( Abt, Mustazza). Recognized by most as the white- haired fellow in glasses, Phil Donahue laid the foundation for talk show hosts for generations to follow. Starting at 9:00 am in 1986, Donahue occupied the daytime television slot for over 26 years. Donahue formed a relationship with his viewers through Conversation Piece his famous “ hot topic” radio call- in show which aired from 1963 to 1967 (Halper). This made the switch from radio to television easy for his followers, who were mainly stay at home women....
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