A talk show, or chat show as they tend to be called in Britain, is a television or radio program in which the host discusses various topics with a series of, or group of, guests, normally selected because they have a degree of celebrity through movies, music, entertainment, sport or politics. The program is generally recorded in front of a studio audience. The genre was moulded and honed during the 1950s and early 1960s into a form that has become popular worldwide through the American network shows of Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan, was adopted for British and Australian audiences by Michael Parkinson, and was modernized in the 1990s for different audiences by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman and Jonathan Ross.
The world's longest running talk show is the RTE program in Ireland, The Late, Late Show, which also began in the mid-1950s, hosted by Gay Byrne. Equally long running has beenThe Tonight Show, which was first introduced in the New York area by Steve Allen in 1954, before being networked by NBC. The program was still being produced in 2011, although it has undergone various format, name and host changes.
Borrowing heavily from radio, some television chat show hosts, such as Byrne, opened up their program to telephone calls from the audience at home, creating a sub-genre known as the call-in show. As well as being very popular, the format is also relatively low-cost to produce.
The term "talk show," came into use in the mid-1960s, although on radio, talk shows made up 24 percent of all U.S. programming from 1927 to 1956. In the 1949-1973 period, U.S. network television actively used talk formats in its daytime program, and 15 to 20 percent of its evening schedules consisted of talk shows of one kind or another. The first talk show broadcast on TV was hosted by Joe Franklin. It aired in 1951 on WJZ-TV (later WABC-TV) and moved to WOR-TV (later WWOR-TV) from 1962 to 1993.
The first talk shows were mainly broadcast on Sundays and focused primarily on political and social issues. "Late night talk shows," gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. Around the world, the formula was often a staple of the Saturday night schedule, with its mix of star interviews, mixed with comedy or a musical act. With an increase in air time to fill with daytime schedules opening up in the 1970s, daytime talk shows were developed. Pioneered by Phil Donohue, with The Oprah Winfrey Show is probably the best known of the daytime version, being sydnicated around the world and running for 25 seasons before coming to a close in 2011. It was the highest-rated talk show in American television history.
Tabloid talk shows, in which guests, often drawn from the public, discuss their problems before a studio audience, became popular in the 1980s. The Jerry Springer Show began in 1990 and is considered the most successful show of this genre. Comedic talk shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart grew in popularity from the 1990s. Ironic and satirical, the hosts generally introduce the show with a scripted comedy monologue based around the news, topical events, and celebrities, before introducing three or four celebrity guests. Such programs tend to be more entertainment-based than informative, the lengthier, more in-depth interviews of earlier television, as conducted by Parkinson or the BBC's John Freeman in his Face to Face series long since abandoned.
The talk show has also been the subject of parody itself, especially in Britain, where comic Steve Coogan invented the character of Alan Partridge, a gauche regional sports presenter who was given his own networked chat show. The Alan Partridge Show ran to two series before its host was told it was to be canned becuase of his incompetence and ineptitude.
Since the mid-1990s, talk shows have also tended to be criticized often for the manner in which guests agree to appear. Often, the appearance is linked to a new book or movie, or is used to promote a forthcoming tour or the launch of a television series, usually on the same channel. Probing or difficult questions from the host to the guest are virtually unknown. Thus, a cosy, symbiotic relationship develops between the producers or the show and the host, and the guests, which some viewers find less interesting.