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A Brief History of TV Talk Shows

These days, talk shows on television are pretty ubiquitous. Whether you turn on your TV in the morning or late at night, you're sure to find at least one host cracking jokes, asking difficult and probing questions, or introducing the latest and greatest musical act. But that wasn't always the case. Let's take a look back at the history of talk shows and how they changed the course of television — and vice versa.

Transitioning From Radio to Television

Credit: The Joe Franklin Show Archives / YouTube

Talk shows did not originate with TV. Like other content that we now consider a staple of modern television — including episodic dramas such as soap operas — talk shows originally became popular through AM or FM radio.

As TVs became increasingly common in homes, however, focus shifted to a new kind of programming. Among the earliest TV talk show pioneers was New York radio host Joe Franklin, who had worked behind the scenes on popular local radio shows before eventually helming his own shows. He made the move to television in 1951, starring in Joe Franklin — Disc Jockey, a daytime talk show that aired on New York’s ABC affiliate WJZ-TV (later known as WABC-TV).

Franklin continued to create spinoff shows in subsequent years that aired during both daytime and late-night slots. His most successful talk show began in 1962 and was eventually known as The Joe Franklin Show, which aired on WOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey, until 1993. It was best known for its slew of eclectic guests, who ranged from A-list to D-list celebrities — everyone from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to a then-unknown Barbra Streisand. (He even hired a young Bette Midler as his in-house singer for a short time.)

Franklin himself never reached the kind of superstardom many of his guests achieved, but he helped to create an entire genre of television programming that we still watch today.

The Longest-Running Talk Show

Credit: philmfan / YouTube

After Joe Franklin proved that radio stars could successfully cross over to television, other well-known hosts made the transition, too. One show that got its start early on was NBC's The Tonight Show, which first debuted in 1953, when Steve Allen transitioned the show from local Los Angeles radio to television. The show's name has changed a few times, but it's still on the air today, making it the longest-running talk show in history. It's currently helmed by Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon, who is the show's sixth permanent host. He took the reins from Jay Leno, whose first tenure behind the desk was preceded by Johnny Carson's famous 30-year run from 1962 to 1992.

Women Run the Show

Credit: Chuck D's All-New Classic TV Clubhouse / YouTube

Today, many female talk show hosts are household names. Namesake shows featuring Ellen DeGeneres and Wendy Williams, along with programs such as The View and The Talk, put women front and center — often both in front of and behind the camera. However, this wasn’t always the case.

One early game-changer was Sally Jessy Raphael, who is credited with being the first woman to host a nationally syndicated television talk show in the United States. In 1983, she debuted The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, which routinely featured controversial topics such as religious fanaticism and teen pregnancy. Because of the sensitive subject matter in her show, Raphael is often associated with the tabloid talk show genre, which includes other hot-button hosts including Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Ricki Lake, and Jenny Jones.

Joan Rivers broke new ground, too, as a frequent guest host in Johnny Carson's stead on The Tonight Show. And then, of course, there's Oprah Winfrey, perhaps the most iconic talk show host of all time. Winfrey was the first woman to own and produce her own talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired nationally from 1986 to 2011 and is still considered by many to be the gold standard in talk shows.

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