How Are Talk Shows Organized?
October 15, 2013 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Interested in hearing from the Mefiverse about how big-time talk shows are organized behind the scenes, i.e. do they prep the stars on questions before-hand and if so, how?

What kind of back-and-forth between the talent and the host goes on prior to going on air?

Bonus points for anyone who's appeared on a major network talk show (i.e. Conan, Late Night, etc. and can/wants to talk about their experience.)
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have a friend who appeared on Letterman as a kind of ordinary person / human interest story. They only saw Dave for literally seconds before the show went on air, when he popped his head in the door and exchanged brief greetings and pleasantries. They did thoroughly pre-interviewed by a producer in a kind of mock-up of the segment. The producer made suggestions (don't tell that story, elaborate more on this) and they repeated a few questions so they could try again incorporating the suggestions. During the actual segment, Dave had the questions on a card. He followed the script for the most part, although he grabbed onto one aspect of the first answer and asked an unscripted question and ended up skipping another question as a result. I have no idea if the same process is followed for stars or other shows. I know that when he asked Lindsey Lohan about her addictions, she replied "We didn't discuss this in the pre-interview" but perhaps she doesn't qualify as a star.
posted by Lame_username at 12:05 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: My mother did PR for A-list celebs for many years, and I worked on a cable talk show for a little while. In each case, I can confirm that the questions and anecdotes are pre-selected, typically with a producer, but sometimes with the host paying a visit to a star's dressing room. That's why, for instance, Letterman's interviews with Madonna or Drew Barrymore from back in the day which went entirely off script were so noteworthy. The Madonna one in particular--man, that was a trip.

It's not word-for-word, but more like, "X is going to ask you about your recent trip to Hawaii, and how your dog learned to put on a seat belt, and then we'll talk about your new movie and what it was like to work with famous director" etc.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:31 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having worked behind the scenes, a lot of really, really, really huge stars have do's and don'ts of questions that can be asked, which are typically sent over by their publicist or manager ahead of time. If their appearance is part of a brand promotion for a new major movie (i.e. someone from a Disney movie appearing on an ABC talk show), questions are typically vented by the publicist/PR firm for the movie/production company.

Producers typically do a pre-interview, which is pretty true to form with the questions that are going to be asked on set, and those are written by producers, APs and writers for the show, who receive a dossier about the talent in advance, and glean from the publicist's dossier what to ask.
posted by banannafish at 12:32 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A-list talent doesn't do pre-interviews. Producer submits list of questions/topics to talent's people (manager, publicist, agent or all three.) If talent is plugging a movie, studio will provide clip(s). Ditto with book or charity event. If talent is huge, host will stop by to say hello, etc.. Very little is spontaneous, no matter how it appears.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:43 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Larry Sanders Show is a fun (if exaggerated) example of how this stuff works.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 12:56 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This may be the right place to tell my Letterman story and it sort of answers the question. So I am at the Red Rooster on Route 22 just north of Brewster with two of my kids eating burgers, fries and having chocolate shakes at one of the outside picnic tables near the tree where the little kids climb and mess around. Standing there watching a little kid was David Letterman. I tell my two teens, "Hey, that is David Letterman." They both reply right away knowing me, "Whatever you do, don't embarrass us please!"

I get up and say hello to David. I actually was in love with his shoes. This is coming from a guy who wears Chuck Taylors because I have worn them since 1968 or something. His shoes were really really nice coaches shoes. You know the kind from...well...back in 1968 that were black leather with the white band around the top of the opening. The soles were rubber ridges if I am describing them correctly. So I say to David, "Love the shoes and also love the show. Thanks a lot" He replied, "Can't give you the shoes and you should really thank my producers" at which point my sons yelled, "Daaad!" and I went back to being old suburban dad eating fries and trying not to embarrass my boys.

The producers do a lot of the pre work. I also know someone who was on for stupid human tricks that said he only met Dave for a second beforehand and afterwards David asked why in the world he learned his trick.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: I went to a David Sedaris book signing recently, and it was shortly after his awesome Daily Show interview. During the Q&A I asked him something the interview and he went on and on about how great Jon Stewart is and how awful most hosts are. He said that Jon Stewart is pretty much the only big-name host who actually makes an effort to chat with guests beforehand, but he also doesn't want to know too much because he wants the interview to be authentic. IIRC Sedaris started telling him something and Stewart said something to the effect of "no, no, save that for the interview, it's funny and I want to laugh for real on screen." And, of course, Sedaris made Stewart laugh so hard during that interview he was practically crying.
posted by radioamy at 1:31 PM on October 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If you watch the film American Splendor, they pretty briefly depict how the late Harvey Pekar was pretty uncomfortable with the whole packaging of himself, and the fact that this itself made great television wasn't something he appreciated, either. They don't specifically portray a pre-interview but they make a lot out of the fact that Pekar was completely unpredictable, especially as he began to satirize the whole process including his own strange celebrity.

One of the key appearances is here via Cracked, and I include it because of the other more or less unscripted moments as well as the analysis they provide.

I won't go so far as to say he invented the practice, but Dave was a lot more aggressive than any predecessor as far as opening up the meta part of the process, and would often mention the question cards he had been given and say something like "Don't you have a movie to promote? It says here you have a movie." He might also bring up an anecdote on the cards that the celebrity has forgotten to bring up. The thing is, he understood how a train wreck entertains even if he doesn't succeed in getting someone back on track.
posted by dhartung at 3:20 AM on October 16, 2013

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