Talk shows are an endangered species that must evolve

Jennifer Hudson knows how to work a crowd. When her syndicated talk show premiered on Fox on Monday, Sept. 12 — which also happened to be Hudson’s 41st birthday — she hopped on set in hot pink from head to toe: dress, tights, boots, nails, makeup. Before taking her seat on the couch at center stage, already out of breath and on the verge of tears, the EGOT winner sang, danced and hugged woman after female star in the audience. “When you see me, you’ll see my heart,” she promised in the opening monologue. By the time the hour was up, she had given everyone in the crowd a holiday to Mexico, surprised an aspiring singer with the chance to perform on national TV and, in a booking that guaranteed headlines, had her first date with Simon Cowell in the 18 years since he underestimated her American Idol.

Even if Hudson and Cowell’s mutual amiability seemed a little artificial, it’s hard to imagine a more dynamic debut from a more distinguished or charismatic host. A decade ago, this combination of energy and star power might have been guaranteed The Jennifer Hudson Show long run. But nevertheless in 2022 relatively strong initial ratings, its success is not a foregone conclusion. (Just look The Drew Barrymore Showwhose very famous very nice host has struggled with bad grades and other setbacks.) In this transitional moment for talk shows of any kind, on any platform, as audiences dwindle and big names drop out, the future of the format itself is uncertain. As righteous as it may feel to defend a legacy genre perfected by Johnny Carson and Oprahmaybe it’s time to admit that the talk show as we know it is outdated.

Although the television business as a whole no longer shuts down between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the syndicated talk world still revolves around an old-school broadcast schedule. As such, September brings a handful of chat show premieres. Sherry Shepherd, 30 Rock actor and former co-host of The viewrevealed Sherry on the same day, Hudson’s first episode dropped. Karamoas in Strange eye star Karamo Brownfollowed on 19 Sept.

The influx of new faces – or more accurately, familiar faces headlining new series – mirrors last season’s exodus of everyday powerhouses including Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy Williams, Dr. OzMaury Povich and The real one. (Not all of these series were terminated by execs; Oz was agitation for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, while DeGeneres decided not to renew his contract amid reports of a hostile work environment in The Ellen DeGeneres Show.) Meanwhile, the cancellation of Full frontal with Samantha Bee, James Cordenimpending departure from The Late Late Showand implosion of the Showtime favorite Desus and Mero suggest big changes come late at night.

Not that the change was particularly sudden. By 2015, Hollywood Reporter it was dating the decline of the “one-host talk show” until four years earlier, when Oprah ended her syndicated flagship, and the placing of blame on such new, unmediated outlets for celebrity access as social media and TMZ. But both during the day and late night talk have suffered a sharp decline in ratings since then as the explosion of streaming reverberated across the linear TV landscape. (Although Nielsen numbers no longer tell the whole story about any series’ reach — many people watch talk shows via YouTube, social media clips and streaming platforms — they remain a crucial measure of financial viability.) exit interview this spring, DeGeneres admitted that the present doesn’t seem like a great time to enter the “broken middle” of the day.

Streaming may be the biggest threat to the future of the talk show. After all, it provides an endless on-demand supply of new and old TV in every genre, which is much harder to compete with the reruns, game shows, soaps and commercials that the linear networks air during the weekday and after 11:30 p.m. Comedy and music fans who once tuned in late into the night for the shows can now find dozens of stand-up specials and concert films on most streaming platforms. Never an ideal model for distributing timely content, streaming has also struggled to develop successful talk shows of its own; REST IN PEACE Chelsea, Breaking up with Michelle Wolf, Patriot Act with Hassan Minhajand The Joel McHale Show only on Netflix. Offered an opportunity to engage with the important political and cultural issues of the day, it seems most subscribers would prefer to escape to Strange things or I am selling Zalez.

Yet streaming is far from the only factor contributing to the talk show’s decline. Trump’s hyper-partisan age has dealt a final death blow to the politically neutral “general public” of past generations. (NBC unsuccessful try to do reactionary Fox News alum Megyn Kelly palatable to daytime viewers is one example of the utter chaos this transition unleashed.) Among the loyal fans who remained, many changed their media regimen, sometimes forever, during the extended pandemic hiatus of talk shows in 2020. Meanwhile, on -young adults — traditionally a key late-night demographic — have they found themselves alienated from the media’s reliance on rehash of the same news they already spend all day reading about on social media, and show lineups that currently include three straight, white hosts named James, but none who be a woman, a person of color, or a member of the LGBTQ community.

Additionally, over the past decade podcasts have become a major force in entertainment—and a huge subset of the most popular in the world, from Call her dad to WTF with Marc Maronare audio-only broadcasts optimized for anytime, anywhere listening. Joe Roganwhich remains, for better or worse, the the most listened to podcast in the USattracts an audience of approx 11 million per episode. Compare that to the most watched chat show of the day, The viewwhich averages approx 2.4 million in the 2021-22 season and it’s no wonder the iconic hosts from Conan O’Brien to Martha Stewart refocused their energies on podcasts.

Add it all up, and talk shows start to look like victims of organic shifts in multiple industries and demographics rather than victims of some sudden demise. This does not mean that they are all doomed to failure, although many have already done so and others will follow; this means the format must evolve to survive. In this respect, broadcast networks and streaming services in particular have a lot to learn from the few shows that seem to be thriving. Much like John Oliver’s Emmy dominant Last week tonight, broadcast only once a week – because who can still afford to devote five precious weekly hours to watching one programme? Netflix’s only long-running talk show, My next guest needs no introduction with David Lettermanhas an A-list host and guests and produces fewer than 10 episodes per season.

Late night has also, unfortunately, found viewers repeating the mocking political rhetoric on the Internet. Bill Maher, which now directs more rage at the “woke” left than the far right, becomes a hot topic with each new episode. Fox News’ Gutfield!sometimes a conservative response to the purportedly liberal slant of network hosts defeats broadcast competitors like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon in the ratings. In the gentler realm of daytime – where even the second most-watched talk show, Dr. Philhas been staff reductionThe view maintained its dominance by reflecting the political fragmentation of society rather than politely ignoring it.

In turn, the crucial youth demo has fueled the modest successes of late-night cable and streaming titles whose structures are looser and voices more absurd than their broadcast predecessors. The hosts of these shows—Showtime’s Ziveof Peacock The Amber Ruffin ShowSwimming for adults The Eric Andre Show– also tend to break the Jimmy/James/John pattern, the obsolescence of which can be reflected in dramatic drop off in the ratings for Stewart’s return to Apple TV+, The Jon Stewart problem. (Desus and Mero it also likely would have continued beyond its fourth season if the hosts hadn’t had a very public dispute.)

Daytime’s Class of 2022 reflects a similar investment in diversity — and especially in black hosts, who remain underrepresented despite such notable exceptions as Oprah, Tamron Halland Whoopi Goldberg. In counterpoint to the often heated Goldberg ReviewHudson and colleagues Idol alum Kelly Clarkson lean on interaction between music and audience. Barrymore’s new season heralds a shape change which will allow local affiliates to run the entire hour-long show or a stand-alone half-hour show. But it’s hard to believe that these largely cosmetic fixes will solve a basic problem. Daytime talk has always been a less malleable, experimental arena than late night, whose traditional audience is college students and wreckers. If it can’t transform into Hudson or someone else, then I’m telling you it can go.

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