Although MTV and the Buggles would have us think that video killed the radio star, the truth is...it made them bigger. Especially if they had the gift of gab.
Talk show hosts during the early days of television included Arthur Godfrey, Dave Garroway and Jack Paar. They all began their careers in radio and they were all integral in the formation of the TV talk show formats we know and love today.
During the 1920s, the radio networks had an estimated 21 “talk” programs, including public affairs, religion, and housekeeping. Hosts generally appeared as experts, educating their audiences. They offered a look into a more glamorous, exciting world. But pictures paint a thousand words and television offered an even better look at talk, given that you could now see and hear, these so called experts talk, as they were talking.
Although television wasn't common in American homes until the 1950s. From 1949 to 1973, nearly half of all daytime programming on the three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) was talk.
The talk show as we know it, is a genre structured around the act of spontaneous conversation guided by a host or moderator. The style of talk show that we have grown accustomed to probably began with Joe Franklin (another radio guy) in 1951 in NYC on WJZ-TV.
But it was the Tonight show, which began in 1954 as a local New York television show that really sealed the deal. The original show was hosted by Steve Allen… you guessed it... a former radio guy. In fact it was an evolution of 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 it's second host, Jack Paar, followed by the incomparable Johnny Carson who remained the host for thirty years from 1962 to 1992. The Tonight show remains the worlds longest running television talk show.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s many competitors sprouted up. Some going head to head with Carson others broadcasting later in the night or during the day.
Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas, Tom Snyder, Virginia Graham, and many others presented their own version of televised talk. They all had varying degrees of success but eventually the advent of cable television and subsequently the internet fragmented the audience so much that it's now virtually impossible to generate an audience as large as once was able when their were basically only three television networks to choose from.
More than fifty million people tuned in for the finale of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, which ended with Carson sitting on a stool alone at center stage, similar to Jack Paars last show.
It's unlikely that the talk show format will ever go away, buts it's clear that no current or future host will ever come close to the success and longevity of Johnny Carson. Not much more to say is there?
We’ll be right back after this important message.
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