04 July 2018

The TV Talk Show

Executive Summary

A TV talk show is a program that involves one or more guests and a moderator, and that is linked to water management, weather conditions, business or political and social developments. The guests, who have knowledge or experience related to the topic, are the main attraction. Guests might be sanitation or water experts, environmental activists, people directly affected by a water crisis, representatives of government or international institutions.

The following factsheet provides you with guidance on the format and key questions that should be answered through the content of TV news stories.

What kinds of guests does a TV talk show include?

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The choice of guests on a talk show is very important. The success or failure of any talk show depends very much on that choice, the guests’ qualifications and their interactions.

A guest should have expert knowledge or interesting experiences related to the topic under discussion – they should also present well on screen.

There is always the danger that talk show guests will only push their own agenda during the talk show (for example, politicians, business owners) and the careful choice of guests can mitigate this.

When there is more than one guest it is also important to ensure that the guests hold differing viewpoints. While all the guests should be given equal time to speak, this means that rather than simply agreeing with one another, they will challenge one another and encourage debate. This makes the talk show dynamic and adds dramatic tension.

What is the difference between a TV talk show and a TV interview?

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A talk show is longer than an interview and has a different format. An interview has a more tightly controlled format while in a talk show guests are more free to say what they wish. Guests can make statements, tell personal stories and assess situations.

A talk show also includes more chances for follow-up questions.

To illustrate the topic and the relevant problem short video clips can be displayed during the talk show.

The host or moderator shows their personality but tries to remain relatively neutral, simply allowing the guests to speak in turn.

The goal is a lively discussion among the guests.

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How is a TV talk show constructed?

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A TV talk show is much longer than a TV interview. The length of the talk show depends on how many guests are involved and the format. It can be as long as 90 minutes or as short as 15 minutes. A longer 90-minute talk show usually involves at least three guests.

A talk show begins with a lead-in by the moderator or presenter, who introduces the topic and the guests (name and role or function) to viewers. Guest introductions may include brief ad general information about where they each stand on the issue under discussion.

The moderator keeps the talk show running smoothly with their questions and keeps it going according to a pre-planned dramatic arc, as much as possible.


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  • Is the topic being discussed relevant and up-to-date?
  • Is the topic meaningful and is it interesting enough to work as a talk show topic?
  • Does it have enough angles and aspects to keep people talking?
  • Have the guests been carefully selected?
  • Do they all have different viewpoints on the topic? And is the moderator aware of where each guest stands?
  • Is there a plan for the talk show? What are the questions that will be asked to keep the talk show moving forward and to keep it on track?
  • Has the guests’ seating or positioning been considered? For example, those with opposing viewpoints should sit opposite one another.
  • Are the clothes of the moderator suitable for the situation? The presenter’s clothing should be “impartial” and adhere to the widely accepted standards of professional or business clothing; avoid brand-name clothes. Unusual or eye catching clothing draws the viewer’s attention away from the topic.
Library References

Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting

When basic questions about journalism come up, this handbook, written and produced by Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT), provides clear, brief and precise answers. Shortcuts to Journalism isn’t just for journalists – it’s also helpful for non-journalists. Download the English version here or the Arabic version here.

Schmidt, E., Tirok, M. and Bösch, M. (2016): Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting. Berlin, Germany: Media in Cooperation and Transition gGmbH PDF
Further Readings

Alternative Versions to