The Decline of the Chat Show

version

Well-known member
YouTube throwing up Dick Cavett (and even Firing Line) clips consistently highlights this.

I don't think you can pinpoint any particular moment as being the point of no return, but the 60s and 70s certainly seems like the peak. There are still good interviews into the 80s and 90s, but the emphasis on comedy becomes greater and greater over time. You can now have a fifty minute show which maybe provides a couple of funny highlights for social media whilst discussing nothing at all.

It's kind of remarkable you can get several people together on a show to talk to each other and end up with absolutely nothing being said.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I have to say it's not a genre I have ever been interested in as a rule.... perhaps because, as you say, by the time I was old enough to consider watching such a thing, the heyday was long since gone.
In general, when I see things such as Letterman (is that the kind of thing you mean or is he some sort of more general non-entertainer in many fields rather than specialising in a single one ie chat?) I always find the interviews a curious mixture of smugness and discomfort. I´m just sort of thinking out loud here but perhaps that arises from the way that the situation is on the one hand, a wholly artificial one, but one which at the same time we have all become entirely accustomed to so we no longer notice that characteristic. I always feel uncomfortable FOR the people in that situation, both presenter and guest, it feels a little like when at a party or other social event two people are introduced by a mutual acquaintance who promptly disappears leaving the others to sort of... well, what? Normally to make their excuses and extricate themselves to talk to their real friends as quickly as politeness allows... but for our unfortunate tv people that's not an option, they have to remain in that situation with the stranger for a specified amount of time, and they have to do it with loads of people watching and expecting to be entertained. I mean of course it's not so frightening as I make out cos, just as in a party with loads of strangers, there are some that thrive more than others, and luckily the ones we are watching are those ones who are deemed to be the very greatest of such thrivers.
But I think that's the source of my instant dislike of the format, before we even get down to the content, I find it a strangely and unpleasantly high pressure situation. I've only just realised it myself but I guess when watching this sort of thing I am having that same kind of feeling one gets watching stand up comedy, willing them desperately to succeed and be funny, not so that they entertain me, but just so that they avoid the unfathomable horror of dying on stage. I guess I am not huge fan of stand up anyway, but the very thought of going to something like that and watching someone fail horribly and then freeze up on stage is just too horrible to contemplate.
As for the content, I think that there is an issue with the fact that the interview is bound to be short and shallow and concerned almost entirely with promoting the guest's latest filmbookthing, maybe this was less the case in the good old days, I dunno, it certainly wouldn't surprise me to learn that the conversations themselves have tended to get shorter and shallower over the years, with more guests on the sofa at the same time, making quick jokes and ensuring that nothing of real depth is ever addressed. The only exceptions being those ones where there is some kind of breakdown; Tom Cruise jumping on the sofa, Grace Jones hitting the emu, Serge Gainsborug telling Whitney Houston he'd like to fuck her etc they're certainly the ones people remember.
I´m always surprised by the popularity of these things in the US an the importance that people seem to ascribe to them. The question being not "do you watch these things?" but "which one do you watch?" and I've seen huge and bemusingly serious debates about how great Leno or Letterman is at that thing they do, whatever it is.
 

Leo

Well-known member
#teamletterman versus #teamleno was equivalent of Pepsi-coke, yankees-mets. you couldn't ascribe to both, and the selection defined you as a person. I'm sure you have football equivalents.
 

boxedjoy

Well-known member
Graham Norton on Channel 4 in the late 90s/early 00s was a big deal for me - a man who was not just gay but flamboyantly so and very much able to put the sex element of his sexuality front-and-centre. Compared to the neutered version of himself on the BBC now, or Alan Carr's completely asexual and painfully unfunny "brand," Norton was a revelation, and I loved that he was able to be that version of himself and be broadcast into homes every weeknight. The format was fine for me - a couple of sentences about whatever was being promoted, and then Norton off to go do something funny online and horrify the celeb sitting across from him.
 

Simon silverdollarcircle

Well-known member
I think the presence of the desk is interesting in chat shows. Middle aged white guys sat behind a desk. They don't need a desk. Parkinson never had a desk. But letterman etc do. Sets up an implicit hierarchy which is weird and unnecessary.

Sometimes it reminds me of being called into the headteacher and told to explain yourself. The harmony korine letterman (I think?) interview had that vibe
 

martin

----
I used to watch The James Whale Radio Show every Friday night– remember the ‘Satanic heavy metal’ expose’, the singer from The Mission getting trolleyed and throwing his shoes around the studio, and the ‘interview with Colin Moynihan’ where they just pushed an Action Man into the toilet with a microphone. Admittedly, we’re talking more interviews with Sunday Sport models or Jerry Hayes, but it was better than watching Open University re-runs.

Does anyone remember After Dark? The most notorious episode’s the one where Oliver Reed’s pissed off his face, but I’d be interested in seeing some of the other ones that haven’t made it online. It was cool having this show at 1am where you’d get all these people sitting around rowing about literary censorship or vivisection, and usually someone walking off in a huff.

I remember seeing David Icke on Wogan at the time, and this one too:

 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Graham Norton on Channel 4 in the late 90s/early 00s was a big deal for me - a man who was not just gay but flamboyantly so and very much able to put the sex element of his sexuality front-and-centre. Compared to the neutered version of himself on the BBC now, or Alan Carr's completely asexual and painfully unfunny "brand," Norton was a revelation, and I loved that he was able to be that version of himself and be broadcast into homes every weeknight. The format was fine for me - a couple of sentences about whatever was being promoted, and then Norton off to go do something funny online and horrify the celeb sitting across from him.
But it sounds to me as though you're saying that Norton was good and he happened to be on a chat show, you're not really defending the format as such right?
 

boxedjoy

Well-known member
I think how he interpreted the format was good - take a moment to promote your latest endeavour, then join me in this tangentially-related exploration of something silly so we can get to know you as a person. But yeah the format of just having folk sit on a couch self-promoting is rarely on its own great entertainment.
 
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IdleRich

IdleRich
What gets me is that some people seem to treat it not just as great entertainment but as something somehow more important than that. I just don't see it at all.
 

Simon silverdollarcircle

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I feel like chat shows occupy the same space in the middle class American psyche that Marks and Spencers do for the British middle class. It's no longer a matter of whether it's good or bad or if you enjoy it. It's deeper than that, a touchstone, an institution that you have to pretend is important because it's an integral part of pretending that everything will be ok
 
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version

Well-known member
Graham Norton on Channel 4 in the late 90s/early 00s was a big deal for me - a man who was not just gay but flamboyantly so and very much able to put the sex element of his sexuality front-and-centre. Compared to the neutered version of himself on the BBC now, or Alan Carr's completely asexual and painfully unfunny "brand," Norton was a revelation, and I loved that he was able to be that version of himself and be broadcast into homes every weeknight. The format was fine for me - a couple of sentences about whatever was being promoted, and then Norton off to go do something funny online and horrify the celeb sitting across from him.
I really like Graham Norton. I first saw him around that time too and used to find his show really fun. I didn't get the significance of what you're talking about re: his sexuality at the time as I was like seven when he was on Channel 4, but it makes sense now.

He's also the best of the current hosts by a mile. His show still suffers from not really discussing anything, but it's the one where the guests seem most at ease and authentic. Apparently that's partly down to them being allowed to drink.
 

version

Well-known member
I think the presence of the desk is interesting in chat shows. Middle aged white guys sat behind a desk. They don't need a desk. Parkinson never had a desk. But letterman etc do. Sets up an implicit hierarchy which is weird and unnecessary.

Sometimes it reminds me of being called into the headteacher and told to explain yourself. The harmony korine letterman (I think?) interview had that vibe
The desk seems to come and go. There are clips of Cavett both with and without, Firing Line just had people in chairs, Parkinson was just chairs.

I remember Luke talking about the classic interview set up of two middle-aged white men in suits, smoking, with glasses and a jug of water sat on a coffee table between them.

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version

Well-known member
The audience seems much more important to the modern chat show. You get guests interacting with them a lot more, more shots of them, they laugh at every other line, they get to tell anecdotes.
 

boxedjoy

Well-known member
I didn't get the significance of what you're talking about re: his sexuality at the time as I was like seven when he was on Channel 4, but it makes sense now.
I think as well you had him often talking about Big Brother in the warm-up section - a show which was won by a camp trolley-dolly stereotype one year and a trans woman another. It was really great for me as a teenager to see this kind of representation and acceptance not just go mainstream but also still be subject to jokes and punchlines, it normalised a lot of this stuff for people watching who would have been otherwise unexposed to LGBT+ lives.
 

version

Well-known member
Big Brother feels huge for making "ordinary people" into celebrities too. I wonder whether that's partly why the chat show audience now has a more prominent role like I was saying above. There's been a concerted effort to bring the public into the media. You can see it in the way politics is conducted, vox pops, reality shows, the public voting for who they want to do tasks on or win/lose a given show.
 

version

Well-known member
I've talked about it on here before, but I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! really lowered my opinion of the British public. I can't remember who it was, but I remember someone freaking out during a bushtucker trial and from then on the public just voting for them to do one every single time.
 

suspended

Well-known member
Never a part of my life. Learned about the Letterman cult in college—"a pioneer!" They said when he retired. "An innovator in form!" Never got into the YT retrospectives.

I think there are two kinds of people in the world, those that like talk for its own social sake, and those that are apathetic to talk separate from its content. The former group is larger, so appealing to low common denominators with an armchair simulacrum of sociality is a better product than actual discourse.

Cable and streaming should've changed this equation though. Maybe they did.
 

version

Well-known member
Letterman's really obnoxious. Charlie Rose was a complete pain too. He'd have all these great guests on then just interrupt them the whole time.
 
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