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 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," Lewis said. "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."
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.
"Iyanla," with host Iyanla Vanzant, an author-lecturer who has been a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey's show, is being pushed by Buena Vista Television.
"We liked Iyanla, and that was enough for us," said Bill Geddie, executive producer of the new show as well as "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 the show is 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," Wilson said.
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 youths, and couples locked in dysfunctional relationships. But the shows also have hosts that audiences can relate to, their producers say.
"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 Association 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 last week at the annual NATPE convention in Las Vegas, where studios and syndicators sell programming to local stations throughout the United States.
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. The mood was upbeat and chaotic.
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