TalkBack Live

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Talk Back Live was a talk show on CNN that lasted from 1994 until 2003. It aired from 3 to 4 pm Eastern Time and was hosted at various times by Susan Rook, Bobbie Battista, Jeff Hullinger, Karyn Bryant and Arthel Neville. The audience participation show originated from a specially constructed stage in the atrium of the CNN Center. It was canceled in favor of extending Live From for an additional hour.

Concept[edit]

It has been widely speculated that in 1993 media mogul Ted Turner, founder of the 24-hour news network CNN, was inspired to create a talk show after walking through the atrium of the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, The CNN Center. As the story goes, Turner walked through the ground floor of the CNN Center and saw the sunlight shining down into the atrium. He had a revelation that the side of atrium in front of The Turner Store would be a great place for a talk show. So one year later and after millions of dollars in renovations, a portion of The CNN Center food court was transformed into a state of the art broadcast studio that seated over two hundred people and “CNN Talk Back Live” was created. One of CNN’s top producers was tapped to head up this new concept, Teya Ryan, an award winning producer in charge of CNN’s environmental features.

The Show[edit]

“Talk Back Live” was billed as the first truly interactive television show. Merging new technology, the World Wide Web or what was then called the information superhighway with television, viewers of the program could call-in like many of CNN’s other talk style shows. Viewer could also fax or go online with partner CompuServe to post their comments on the show’s topic in a custom chatroom. Comments from faxes and CompuServe were often incorporated into the show. What made the show interactive is that the host would allow panelist and audience members to respond to the fax and online comments. Also, the show partnered with MCI and American University in Washington, D.C. to have students and professors provide comments and questions via desktop video technology. “Talk Back Live” originally aired from 1-2 pm on CNN/USA in the time slot previously occupied by "Sonya Live." The show was later pushed back to 3pm to make way for "CNN Today."

CNN partnered with online service CompuServe to provide an online forum to host comments on the show’s topics. This would later serve as the catalyst to CNN Online or what is now known as CNN.com.

Discount drug store chain Drug Emporium was a major sponsor of “Talk Back Live” during the first year of the show. General admission tickets to the show could be found in its Atlanta area stores along with a life-sized poster cutout of “Talk Back Live” host, Susan Rook.

“Talk Back Live” would tackle hot button issues like abortion, sex education, homosexuality and race in America just to name a few. The show’s topic was often influenced by what was happening in the news on that day. During the early days of “Talk Back Live,” many of the show’s topics were about the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The first show was repeatedly interrupted by coverage of the O.J. Simpson case. Many of “Talk Back Live’s” panelists went on to bigger and brighter careers.

The Hosts[edit]

Susan Rook[edit]

Susan Rook was tapped to host this new and innovative show. Rook was a veteran news anchor. She had previously anchored CNN Primenews with co-anchor Bernard Shaw. Rook served as a moderator in the third Presidential debates in 1992. Rook was a graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. She had previously worked at TV stations in Jacksonville, FL and New Orleans, LA. Rook has often said that she was “A traffic cop on the information super highway.”

After Rook left CNN, the show had a string of recurring hosts. Joie Chen, Bill Hemmer, Daryn Kagan, Leon Harris, Chris Rose, and Vince Cellini were among the CNN talent to host the show. Non-CNN personalities to host “Talk Back Live” include Tavis Smiley and Jane Whitney.

Miles O'Brien and Bobbie Battista[edit]

Eventually in 1998 CNN anchors Bobbie Battista and Miles O’Brien were chosen to host “Talk Back Live.” Miles O’Brien would host the show Monday and Tuesday. O’Brien and Bobbie Battista would host the show together on Wednesdays and Battista would host Thursday and Friday. After nearly a year, Miles O’Brien was dropped from the show, and Bobbie Battista became the sole host.

Jeff Hullinger[edit]

For a brief time, while CNN was searching for a replacement for Battista, Jeff Hullinger, former host at WAGA-TV and current anchor at Atlanta NBC station WXIA-TV, served as interim host of TalkBack Live.

Arthel Neville[edit]

When Bobbie Battista left CNN, another search for a host began. In 2002, CNN hired Arthel Neville as the new host of Talk Back Live. The show was re-branded with new logos, graphics and music.

The Panelists[edit]

Over the years “Talk Back Live” has featured panelists on a variety of topics. Some of the most noteworthy panelist include, Major League Baseball player Tom Glavine, CNN Legal Analysts Greta Van Susteran and Roger Cossack, political commentator and feminist Susan Estrich, U.S. Representative J. C. Watts, Jr., CNN Correspondent Art Harris, Defense attorney Ed Garland and political commentator and author Julianne Malveaux.

There were some panelist that used “Talk Back Live” as a stepping stone to bigger opportunities.

Sean Hannity[edit]

Sean Hannity was a popular conservative radio talk show host in Atlanta. He appeared numerous times on “Talk Back Live.” Hannity is now a high profile conservative political commentator on CNN’s competitor, Fox News Channel.

Nancy Grace[edit]

Nancy Grace, a former Atlanta prosecutor was a regular panelist on “Talk Back Live.” She was very vocal about her opinion of O.J. Simpson’s guilt during the murder trial. Grace hosted a show on Court TV and is now host of CNN’s Headline News program, "Nancy Grace."

Tavis Smiley[edit]

Tavis Smiley was a political commentator that made frequent appearance on CNN including “Talk Back Live.” Smiley hosted “Talk Back Live” on several occasions. Tavis Smiley is now a successful author that has appeared multiple times on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The Audience[edit]

“Talk Back Live” was taped in an open air studio in the middle of the CNN Center atrium in downtown Atlanta. Filling the 200 plus seats of the audience was no small task. The show had several staff members dedicated to recruiting audience members for the daily show. Many tourists taking the CNN Studio Tour were often persuaded to sit in the audience. The recruiters or “Audience Coordinators” as they were called often solicited people in popular downtown Atlanta spots with the promise of appearing on live television and a 15 minute MCI pre-paid calling card.

The end[edit]

Despite consistent ratings, in 2003, “CNN Talk Back Live” was canceled so CNN could extend its coverage of the second Gulf War. The program's end brought about the extension of “Live From” with Kyra Phillips and Miles O’Brien to a third hour. “CNN Talk Back Live’s” final broadcast was on March 7, 2003.

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