Daytime TV gets sunnier

TelevisionEntertainmentJerry SpringerGenresVeterans AffairsDefenseRicki Lake

The daytime television talk landscape--once ruled by chair-throwing and "trash talk" series--is shaping up to be a kinder, gentler place, with most of the new shows in the pipeline talking softly.

While some veteran show hosts will still be carrying a big stick--at least verbally--it's clear the attack-talk format has reached its plateau.

This trend toward friendlier daily chatfests follows several years of controversy surrounding a rash of highly provocative series hosted by young talent such as Charles Perez, Carnie Wilson and several others. By contrast, the new shows--such as "Ananda," "Caroline," "Iyanla"--bear the titles, and personalities, of their less edgy hosts.

Even men are getting more in touch with their sensitive side, spinning a "The View"-like vibe with "The Other Half" from NBC Enterprises and the revamped "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" from Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, which puts the revised version--minus host Cybill Shepherd--on display later this week.

The new kids on the talk block feature photogenic, personable hosts dealing with topical subjects not likely to provoke screaming matches, pointedly steering away from the formulas associated with "Jerry Springer," "Jenny Jones" and "Ricki Lake."

"We really feel the time is right to get the talk genre back on track," said Mary Duffy, executive producer of "Ananda," hosted by Ananda Lewis from MTV and BET. And Lewis believes that there is a quieter way to reach young people and still be successful.

"We would love to have (Ricki Lake's) audience, but we're definitely not doing that kind of show," said Lewis. "Ours is going to be more real life, a real reflection of the way people are. When you have a show that's about 'Who's your baby's daddy?' that's a pretty narrow focus."

Meanwhile, Paramount Television Group has high hopes for "Caroline," which features comedian-actress Caroline Rhea of "Hollywood Squares" and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch."

"Caroline will be doing a chat/service-oriented show, and that hasn't been done since Dinah Shore," said Larry Lyttle, president of Big Ticket Television, which is producing the series. "The club is filled on those other types of shows, so we're going in a whole new direction."

"Iyanla," hosted by author-lecturer Iyanla Vanzant, a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey's show, is being pushed by Buena Vista Television. Bill Geddie, executive producer of the series, said the show isn't following any trends but was instead designed to play off Vanzant's strengths.

"We liked Iyanla, and that was enough for us," said Geddie, who is also executive producer of "The View." "She's got a unique ability to cut through people's stuff, and a really unique ability to connect with women."

One of the more offbeat concepts will be "The Other Half," a female-oriented show hosted by five males, including Danny Bonaduce from "The Partridge Family."

Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises & Syndication, said that the show was aimed at sophisticated viewers who may not tune in a "Jerry Springer"-type show. "Our viewers are not the same as those for the more exploitative series," said Wilson.

How well the new talk shows will do is one of the more compelling questions of the coming season, said Joel Berman, co-president of Paramount Domestic Television Group: "We'll see how deep the genre can really go. But I don't believe it's overcrowded at this point."

Regardless, "Ananda's" Duffy said, "It's time to go in a new direction."

Still, don't tell that to the old-school talk-show hosts who feel that confrontation continues to sell.

Veterans such as Springer, Lake, Maury Povich, Jenny Jones and Sally Jessy Raphael will still be on the daytime scene next season. Many feature young people yelling at one another, military boot-camp operators who scream in the faces of hardened youth, and couples locked in dysfunctional relationships. But the shows also have hosts that audiences can relate to, say producers.

"We have shaken all the failures out, and the real successful ones have survived," said Povich, who has seen his ratings grow with the youth-oriented format of his Studios USA-produced show. "I'm very proud of our success. And there is room for everyone who can do a good show."

The new shows are entering the talk-show game at a time when the genre has been overshadowed by a flood of courtroom and relationship shows hoping to emulate the success of "Judge Judy" and "Blind Date."

"It's a difficult period now to launch a talk show," said Bruce Johansen, president and CEO of the National Assn. of Television Program Executives. "The judge shows are doing very well, while the new talk shows seem to be having a soft launch as of now. It's a crowded landscape, and traditionally it takes a long time for a show like this to build an audience. But there will always be room for a new talk show that can break out with the right host."

The two extremes of the talk-show genre were evident at last week's annual NATPE convention in Las Vegas, where studios and syndicators sell programming to local stations around the country.

At the King World booth, the fashionably attired and newly minted talk host Lewis and King World executives held court in a tasteful, picturesque booth. Slick portraits of Lewis were scattered throughout, and Lewis said at one point while looking at the pictures, "This is so weird." The mood was upbeat and chaotic.

A similar mood floated through the massive Studios USA booth, where Povich and other members of the studio's stable met with station managers and fans. But near the entrance was a faux-brick wall with crude scrawls and torn posters featuring Jerry Springer. A couple of decorative trash cans stood nearby. A hole in the wall featured clips of guests from Springer's show in fierce verbal battle.

Springer, who still is the most popular daily talk-show host behind Oprah Winfrey, said his show continues to be outrageous, while surviving the controversies that surrounded it a few years ago, when panelists would break out in brawls as the studio audience bellowed with delight. In 1998, Studios USA banned violence from the show, a move that irritated Springer at the time and resulted in a ratings slide.

Springer said he is much happier now with the show's evolution, which includes a set that resembles an old battered warehouse and the new "Springer Cam," which tapes guests at their home.

"People always ask me where do we get our guests, so we thought we would show them," said Springer. "It's given the show an increase in edge. It's a lot funnier."

Even the attitude toward the more outrageous talk shows seems to have changed.

Richard Dominick, executive producer of "Jerry Springer," was a bit surprised at the reception he received at NATPE, saying the controversy over outrageous talk shows has largely subsided.

"All of the station managers and other people I've talked to here have been so positive, and it's the first time I can remember that no one has told me I'm destroying society or that I'm the devil," said Dominick. "It's been a real revelation. They seem to be happy with our changes. It's given the show a second life."

Ricki Lake defended her show and its format, which often has young people engaged in verbal battle: "We are not Jerry Springer. We continue to be the voice of young people, and we look at issues that affect them. We do so many positive, pro-social things."

"There will always be room for the nice and the not-so-nice," said NATPE's Johansen regarding the talk-show arena. "Some of these nicer shows may become more outrageous, while the more outlandish ones may pull back a bit. I'm convinced that it will cycle back to the more outrageous."

Greg Braxton is a staff writer for the L.A. Times.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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