|The model for this
type of program is "The View," ABC's coffee klatch
gathering of celebrity women, led by Barbara Walters, which has been around since
1997. Although successful, and replicated in other countries, "The View" did
not spawn many U.S. imitators until recently. Then, with almost the viral speed
known to the Internet, the format popped up on dozens of broadcast and cable
CBS has an almost identical program called "The Talk." Fox News
Channel recently launched "The Five" and "Red Eye." Just
about every network, from ESPN to Bravo, has introduced shows devoted to lowbrow
Existing programs have also implemented the format, including Sean Hannity's "The
Great American Panel" on Fox News, and "The Professionals" on
NBC's "Today" show.
Talk programming is nothing new on TV - in fact, it's been a staple since
the earliest days. What's different is that the newer chat shows don't often
bother with guests or "experts"; rather, they rely on a permanent roster
of B-list panelists, whom viewers get to know much as they do the casts of "Jersey
Shore" or the "Real Housewives."
It wasn't long ago that most "talking heads" were anathema to television
programmers, except in the wee hours and on Sunday mornings. So what changed?
For one thing, there's the Fluff Factor. During these stressful economic and
social times, many viewers are worn out by serious problems for which there seem
to be no solutions. They use social media to dwell on smaller issues - and they
enjoy watching groups of their TV "friends" chatting about the same
Julie Chen, host of "The Talk," calls her program "a support
group for women out there" - what one critic quickly termed, "virtual
girlfriends for people who don't have real ones." Or, perhaps, folks whose
friends are only on Facebook.
The tabloid topics that provide fodder for chat TV are the ones showcased
minute-to-minute on the home pages of Yahoo and AOL as well as on TMZ, Twitter
and Google. It's the "hot topic" of the moment - be it the Michael
Jackson verdict, Kim Kardashian's wedding fiasco, the Penn State scandal, and
Even when the chatterazzi turn to meaningful areas like politics, they tend
to overdose on the more sensational issues such as Herman Cain's sexual harassment
charges or Rick Perry's "brain freeze." And like the Internet, TV
kibitzing rarely shapes opinions; it only tends to reinforce views through verbal
CBS has just announced the hiring of veteran talkers Charlie Rose and Gayle
King, who will preside over a chat-based format as part of a total overhaul of "The
Early Show." While Rose will attempt a serious news-based approach in the
first hour, the second hour with King will be patterned after "The View" and "The
That such slender formats can gain popularity on TV underscores the basic
loneliness in the digital age, along with the growing preference for softer,
less threatening themes.
The trend in talk TV, where harshness is yielding to sappiness - as with Fox's
replacement of the bombastic Glenn Beck with "The Five" - is mirrored
by "reality" programming, where innocuous song and dance competitions
now attract more viewers than insect-eating contests.
The sad thing about chat TV, with its virtual friends from Hollywood's and
Washington's B lists, is that it's no more "real" than reality TV.
As entertainment, it's harmless; as a forum for public opinion, it's rather frightening.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.