Talk Shows Like Jennifer Hudson’s Need to Evolve to Survive

Jennifer Hudson is a master at managing crowds. When her syndicated talk show premiered on Fox on Monday, Sept. 12—which also happened to be Hudson’s 41st birthday—she bounded onto the set in head-to-toe hot pink: dress, tights, boots, nails, makeup. The EGOT winner, who was still breathless from the excitement, embraced every woman in her audience, singing, dancing, and hugging them before she moved to the middle stage. “When you see me, you’re gonna see my heart,” she pledged in an opening monologue. By the time the hour was out, she’d given everyone in the crowd a vacation to Mexico, surprised an aspiring singer with the chance to perform on national TV, and, in a booking that guaranteed headlines, had her first encounter with Simon Cowell in the 18 years since he underestimated her on American Idol.

Even if Hudson and Cowell’s mutual graciousness came off as a bit artificial, it’s hard to imagine a more dynamic debut from a more distinguished or charismatic host. In a decade past, this combination of star power and energy might have been guaranteed. Jennifer Hudson Show a lengthy run. Its success in 2022 is not certain despite its strong initial ratings. Just take a look at Drew Barrymore Show(The very popular, extremely likable host, has suffered from poor ratings and other setbacks. As audiences decrease and top names leave, this is a transitional time for all talk shows, regardless of platform. The format’s future looks uncertain. While it may feel righteous and noble to defend a heritage genre created by Johnny Carson, Oprah, and others it seems that it’s time to recognize the reality of talk shows.

While the television business does not close between Memorial Day Day & Labor Day, syndicated talks still follow an old broadcast schedule. So September is a month of premieres for chat-shows. Sherri Shepherd 30 RockActor and co-host for The View, unveiled Sherri on the same day Hudson’s first episode dropped. KaramoAs in Queer Eye Karamo Brown was the star, and she followed her on September 19.

The influx of new faces—or, more accurately, familiar faces headlining new series—reflects last season’s exodus of daytime stalwarts including Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy Williams, Dr. Oz, Maury Povich, and The Real. (Execs did not axe all these series; Oz is running for the Pennsylvania Senate seat, and DeGeneres decided to terminate her contract due to reports about a hostile workplace. Ellen DeGeneres Show.) In the meantime, cancel of Samantha Bee – Full Frontal, James Corden’s impending departure from Late Late Show, and the implosion of Showtime’s beloved Desus & Mero It is possible for big changes to occur late at night.

The shift was not sudden. The 2015 Census showed that the Hollywood Reporter was dating the decline of “the single-host talk show” to four years earlier, when Oprah wrapped her syndicated standard bearer, and placing the blame on such novel, unmediated outlets for access to celebs as social media and TMZ. Both late-night and daytime talk ratings have dropped precipitously since the advent of streaming, which has had a reverberating effect on the traditional linear TV landscape. (While Nielsen numbers no longer tell the whole story of any series’ reach—plenty of people watch talk shows via YouTube, social media clips, and streaming platforms—they remain a crucial measure of financial viability.) In an exit interview this spring, DeGeneres admitted that the present didn’t seem like a great moment to enter the “fractured environment” of daytime.

Streaming could be the greatest threat to talk-show future. However, streaming does offer an unlimited supply of old and new television in any genre. It is much harder than the informationmercials, soaps and game shows that linear networks broadcast during work hours. Most streaming platforms offer hundreds of specials, concert films, and comedy for music and comedy fans. While streaming is not the best distribution platform for time-sensitive content, it has struggled to produce successful talk shows. R.I.P. Chelsea, Michelle Wolfe’s Break, Patriot Act for Hasan MinhajAnd Joel McHale ShowNetflix and only Netflix. It seems most subscribers prefer to be able to interact with current political and cultural issues. Stranger Things Or Selling Sunset.

Yet streaming is far from the only factor contributing to the talk show’s decline. The hyper-partisan Trump era dealt a final death blow to the politically neutral “general audience” of generations past. (NBC’s abortive attempt to make the reactionary Fox News alum Megyn Kelly palatable to daytime viewers is one example of the categorical chaos this transition unleashed.) Among the loyal fans who remained, many changed their media diets, sometimes for good, during talk shows’ extended pandemic hiatuses of 2020. At the same time, younger adults—traditionally a key demographic for late night—have found themselves alienated by the medium’s reliance on rehashing the same news they already spend all day reading about on social media, as well as broadcast lineups that currently feature three straight, white hosts named James but none who are women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community.

Also in the past decade, podcasts have become a major force in entertainment—and a huge subset of the most popular ones in the world, from Calm Her Dad To Marc Maron: WTF?The podcasts, which are audio-only shows that can be heard wherever, whenever and however you like, offer audio-only discussions. Joe Rogan is still the most-listened to podcaster in America, with an average audience of 11 million for each episode. Compare that to daytime’s most-watched chat show, The View, which averaged around 2.4 million during the 2021-22 season, and it’s no wonder that iconic hosts from Conan O’Brien to Martha Stewart have refocused their energies on podcasts.

All of this makes talk shows look more like the result of natural changes across multiple industries and populations than a victim of a sudden, unpredicted extinction. That doesn’t mean they’re all doomed to fail, though many already have and more are bound to follow; it means that the format needs to evolve in order to survive. The streaming and broadcast media have much to learn about the shows that seem to be doing well. Many, like John Oliver’s Emmy-dominating Last Week Tonight, air just once a week—because who can still afford to budget five precious weekly viewing hours to a single program? Netflix’s only long-running talk show, David Letterman is my next guest.The show has an A-list host with guests and produces less than 10 episodes each season.

Late night has also, unfortunately, found viewers by echoing the Internet’s sneering political rhetoric. Bill Maher, who now directs more fury at the “woke” left than the far right, becomes a trending topic with each new episode. Fox News’ Gutfield!, a conservative answer to network hosts’ allegedly liberal slant, sometimes trounces broadcast competitors like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon in the ratings. In the gentler daytime realm—where even the second-most-watched talk show, Dr. Phil, has been laying off staff—The View has maintained its predominance by mirroring the public’s political fragmentation instead of politely ignoring it.

It has contributed to the modest successes in cable and streaming late-night shows, which have structures that are less rigid and vocals more bizarre than those broadcast. The hosts of these shows—Showtime’s Ziwe, Peacock’s Amber Ruffin Show, Adult Swim’s Eric Andre Show—also tend to break the Jimmy/James/John mold, whose outdatedness might well be reflected in the dramatic dropoff in ratings for Stewart’s Apple TV+ comeback, Jon Stewart: The Problem. (Desus & Mero would also presumably have continued past its fourth season if the hosts hadn’t had a very public falling out.)

Daytime’s class of 2022 reflects a similar investment in diversity—and particularly in Black hosts, who remain underrepresented despite such high-profile exceptions as Oprah, Tamron Hall, and Whoopi Goldberg. In a counterpoint to Goldberg’s often-heated ViewHudson, and other Idol Kelly Clarkson, a former Kelly Clarkson star is now focusing on music and interaction with the audience. Barrymore’s new season heralds a change in format that will give local affiliates the option to run the full hour-long show or one standalone half-hour. But it’s hard to believe that these largely cosmetic adjustments will solve an elemental problem. Talking on the daytime is less experimental and flexible than talk at night. Students and stoners are its traditional audience. If it can’t remake itself in the image of Hudson or anyone else, then I am telling you, it might be going.

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