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Usually, guests consist of a group of people who are learned or who have great experience in relation to whatever issue is being discussed on the show for that episode. Other times, a single guest discusses their work or area of expertise with a host or co-hosts. A call-in show takes live phone calls from callers listening at home, in their cars, etc. Sometimes, guests are already seated but are often introduced and enter from backstage. Gay Byrne, Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Ed Sullivan, Oprah Winfrey, Kris Aquino, Ellen Degeneres, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and Mosunmola Abudu have hosted notable talk shows; in many cases, the shows have made their hosts famous.
There are several major formats of talk shows. Generally, each subgenre predominates during a specific programming block during the broadcast day.
- Breakfast chat or early morning shows that generally alternate between news summaries, political coverage, feature stories, celebrity interviews, and musical performances.
- Late morning chat shows that feature two or more hosts or a celebrity panel, and focus on entertainment and lifestyle features.
- Daytime talk shows, generally featuring a host, a guest or a panel of guests, and a live audience that interacts extensively with the host and guests. These shows may feature celebrities, political commentators, or "ordinary" people who present unusual or controversial topics.
- "Lifestyle" or self-help programs, which generally feature a host or hosts who are medical practitioners, therapists, or counselors, and guests who seek intervention, describe medical or psychological problems, or offer advice.
- Late-night talk shows that feature celebrity guests who talk about their work and personal lives as well as the their latest films, TV shows, music recordings, or other projects they'd like to promote to the public. The hosts are often comedians who open the shows with comedy monologues.
- "Sunday talk" or political discussion shows are a staple of network programming in North America. These shows feature elected political figures and candidates for office, commentators, and journalists.
These formats are not absolute. Syndicated "daytime" shows may appear overnight in some markets, and some afternoon programs have similar structures to late night talk shows.
These formats may vary across different countries or markets. Late night talk shows are especially significant in the United States. Breakfast television is a staple of British television. The daytime talk format has become popular in Latin America as well as the United States.
Talk-radio host Howard Stern also hosted a talk show that was syndicated nationally in the USA, then moved to satellite radio's Sirius. The tabloid talk show genre, pioneered by Phil Donahue but popularized by Oprah Winfrey was extremely popular during the last two decades of the 20th century.
Politics are hardly the only subject of American talk shows, however. Other radio talk show subjects include Car Talk hosted by NPR and Coast to Coast AM hosted by Art Bell and George Noory which discusses topics of the paranormal, conspiracy theories, fringe science and the just plain weird. Sports talk shows are also very popular ranging from high-budget shows like The Best Damn Sports Show Period to Max Kellerman's original public-access television cable TV show Max on Boxing.
Talk shows had been broadcast on television since the earliest days of the medium. Joe Franklin, an American radio and television personality, hosted the first television talk show. The show began in 1951 on WJZ-TV (later WABC-TV) and moved to WOR-TV (later WWOR-TV) from 1962 to 1993.
NBC's The Tonight Show is the world's longest-running talk show, having debuted in 1954, and still going. The show underwent some minor title changes until settling on its current title in 1962, and despite a brief foray into a more news-style program in 1957 and then reverting that same year, it has remained a talk show. Ireland's The Late Late Show is the second-longest running talk show in television history, and the longest running talk show in Europe, having debuted in 1962.
Steve Allen was the first host of The Tonight Show, which began as a local New York show, being picked up by the NBC network in 1954. It in turn had evolved from his late-night radio talk show in Los Angeles. Allen pioneered the format of late night network TV talk shows, originating such talk show staples as an opening monologue, celebrity interviews, audience participation, and comedy bits in which cameras were taken outside the studio, as well as music, although the series' popularity was cemented by second host Jack Paar, who took over after Allen had left and the show had ceased to exist.
Syndicated daily talk shows began to gain more popularity during the mid-1970s and reached their height of popularity with the rise of the tabloid talk show. Morning talk shows gradually replaced earlier forms of programming — there were a plethora of morning game shows during the 1960s and early to mid-1970s, and some stations formerly showed a morning movie in the time slot that many talk shows now occupy.
Current late night talk shows such as The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Show with David Letterman have aired featuring celebrity guests and comedy sketches. Syndicated daily talk shows range from tabloid talk shows, such as The Jerry Springer Show to celebrity interview shows like Live! with Kelly and Michael, The Better Show, The Wendy Williams Show, and Ellen to industry leader The Oprah Winfrey Show which popularized the former genre and has been evolving towards the latter. On November 10, 2010, Oprah Winfrey invited several of the most prominent American talk show hosts - Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael, Geraldo Rivera, Ricki Lake and Montel Williams - to join her as guests on her show. The 1990s in particular saw a spike in the number of "tabloid" talk shows, most of which were short-lived and are now replaced by a more universally appealing "interview" or "lifestyle TV" format.
The current world record for the longest talk show is held by Rabi Lamichhane from Nepal by staying in air for 62 hours from April 11 to 13, 2013 breaking the previous record set by two Ukrainians by airing the show for 52 hours in 2011.
Talk shows in other countries
In Japan, panel shows — called "tooku bangumi" (トーク番組）in Japanese — are very commonplace, accounting for about 30% of daytime and prime-time programming on the four main television stations. Due to language and cultural differences, Japanese TV stations could not freely use syndicated programs (mostly from Europe and North America) and therefore turned to panel shows, which could be produced cheaply and easily, to fill time during daytime programming.
Japanese panel shows are distinct in generally not employing regular panelists but instead having a panel made up of different freelance comedians and celebrities each program, although the program is generally hosted by the same compere. Talk shows evolved in tandem with the Japanese variety show and it is very common for talk shows to borrow variety elements, typically by having celebrity guests attempt some kind of amusingly incongruous activity. Often, one of the guests will be a gaijin tarento (foreign talent) in order to provide comedy or to comment on matters related to Western culture. However, the comedic elements are usually written for the guests and hosts.
Talk show subgenres
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- Priming Effects of Late-Night Comedy
- Late-Night Comedy and the Salience of the Candidates' Caricatured Traits in the 2000 Election
- About Talk Shows
- Morning Talk Shows
- Daytime Talk Shows
- Late Night Talk Shows