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What is a Talk Show?

A talk show is a television or radio program where a host engages in conversation with guests, discussing various topics from current events to personal stories. These shows often blend entertainment with information, offering insights and laughter in equal measure. Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes or how guests are chosen? Join us as we explore the world of talk shows.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

Talk shows may be on the radio.
Talk shows may be on the radio.

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.

David Letterman has been a late night television talk show host for many years.
David Letterman has been a late night television talk show host for many years.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines a talk show and how does it differ from other television programs?

A talk show is a television or radio program where one or more hosts engage in conversation with guests, discussing various topics that can range from politics and current events to entertainment and personal stories. Unlike other TV programs, talk shows are primarily focused on dialogue and interviews rather than scripted storytelling or performances. They often include audience participation and can be broadcast live or pre-recorded.

What are the different types of talk shows available?

There are several types of talk shows, each with its unique format. Daytime talk shows typically focus on lighter subjects and lifestyle content. Late-night talk shows often blend comedy, celebrity interviews, and musical performances. Political talk shows delve into current events and policy discussions, while tabloid talk shows tend to feature sensational topics and personal conflicts. Additionally, there are podcast talk shows that are audio-only and can cover a wide range of subjects.

Who are some of the most influential talk show hosts in history?

Some of the most influential talk show hosts include Johnny Carson, who set the standard for late-night television with "The Tonight Show." Oprah Winfrey revolutionized daytime television with "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which became a cultural phenomenon. Larry King was known for his in-depth interviews on "Larry King Live." Ellen DeGeneres has been praised for her positive impact on daytime TV with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

How have talk shows evolved with the advent of streaming services and social media?

Talk shows have adapted to the digital age by embracing streaming services and social media platforms. Many shows now offer online streaming options, clips on YouTube, and additional content on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. This evolution allows for greater audience engagement and accessibility, as viewers can watch segments on-demand and interact with hosts and guests through social media, broadening the reach and influence of traditional talk shows.

What impact do talk shows have on public opinion and popular culture?

Talk shows have a significant impact on public opinion and popular culture by shaping conversations around current events, introducing new ideas, and providing a platform for public figures to express their views. They can also launch social movements, influence political discourse, and create viral moments that become part of the cultural lexicon. The influence of talk shows is evident in their ability to generate widespread discussion and sometimes even affect change in society.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular WiseTour contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular WiseTour contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments


Cafe41-I love to listen to talk show radio stations like WIOD. I usually listen to Rush Limbaugh. He not only is factually correct in the information that he provides but he is also entertaining to listen to.

He has an audience of over 20 million listeners daily which is why he is considered a powerful force in the Republican Party.

Another talk show that I listen to on the radio is the Dave Ramsey show on XM. He gives no nonsense financial advice that encourages people to get out of debt forever.

I also listen to the Dr. Laura show and also enjoy her direct approach when dealing with callers. She defends children and makes adults accountable for their actions that have caused the damaged relationships in the first place.

Her advice is sound and family oriented and consistent with all of her listeners. You almost always know how she will answer a question because her stance is very well known.


Bhutan-As far as news talk show goes, I usually watch Fox News and watch The O’Reiley Factor, the Glenn Beck Show, or the Hannity show. I have occasionally watched the CNN talk show, The Dobbs Report featuring Lou Dobbs but after he left the air, I only watch Fox.

I watch conservative talk shows that also show another point of view. These shows are educational and the host explain why they feel the way they do.

For example, Glenn Beck teaches how the events that are going on today are counter to our history as a nation. He uses peoples words to demonstrate why he feels they way he does.

He feels that words are the most accurate measure of the beliefs a person has. He also uses the founding fathers to demonstrate the perspective of how far off the track we have gone. His news show beats all of the combined news shows in the ratings and all of these books are New York Times bestsellers.


Subway11-I love Oprah Winfrey and her show. I love when she has talk show guests like Suze Ormon and other financial gurus.

I really enjoy the self improvement shows like this that make your life better. She once had an author to a book that wrote about the real reasons that people had weight problems.

She added that usually these people were very self critical and until they began to be kinder to themselves no weight loss program will help them. It really made a lot of sense and they also had personal testimonials of people that read her book and have changed their lives. It was really inspirational.

I dislike when she does politically motivated shows because I do not share her point of view and I do not find her show entertaining when she does that. I also dislike shows that have no value and are just on the air for their sheer sensationalist value.

Shows like Dr Phil really turn me off because it always seems like he is trying the latest gimmick to get viewers. He displays dysfunctional families on the television which to me is a bit unseemly. These people’s personal pain is what Dr.Phil is profiting from.


The Saturday Night Live Talk Show or the SNL talk show as it is often referred to offers free talk show tickets for people who want to be a part of the studio audience.

As a matter of fact, most talk shows offer free tickets to their audience. One of the most competitive tickets to obtain is the ones for the Oprah Winfrey show. The Oprah Winfrey show is an institution. This influential talk show host is the most influential in television and print media. Her show entitled, “Oprah’s Favorite Things” is the most sought after show to attend.

When Oprah conducts this show she showers the audience with lavish gifts that she considers her favorite items for that year. It is really an exciting show to watch and people from all over the world try to get tickets for that show.

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    • Talk shows may be on the radio.
      By: imkenneth
      Talk shows may be on the radio.
    • David Letterman has been a late night television talk show host for many years.
      David Letterman has been a late night television talk show host for many years.