Why not face to face?
October 2, 2007 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Why do US chat shows have the guest seating facing in the same direction as the host? This means the guest has to turn his or her head 90 degrees to look at the host, which looks totally unnatural to me.

All UK chat shows that I can think of have the guest facing the host, which might be a little harder for the studio audience but doesn't make much difference to the TV viewer, and is certainly easier for the interviewee.

What's the logic behind the cricked neck seating arrangement used in the States?
posted by jontyjago to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just a theory: whoever started this (Jack Parr?) was going by the "rules" of live theatre, in which when two actors have a conversation, they don't completely face each other. Instead, they "cheat" out, so they're partly facing the audience.

I'm not a fan of this, even in the theatre, but I understand the logic: the proscenium-bound audience gets to see everyone's face pretty much full on, rather than in profile.

Those talk shows are intended for live audiences AND tv-audiences. Maybe they're staged more for live audiences. (With multiple cameras, such staging is silly for at-home viewers.) If you watch older sitcoms -- which were more like theatre than tv -- you say the same thing. Think of how the chairs were facing in "All in the Family."

I suspect this trend started in the early days of TV and is now carried forward by its own momentum. Producers aren't trying to mimic theatre, they're trying to imitate Carson who was trying to imitate Parr who was trying to imitate theatre.

No proof for any of this. Just a hunch.
posted by grumblebee at 10:53 AM on October 2, 2007

I think your premise isn't true. Both the host and guests are typically facing diagonally, which means you can get a master shot of the whole stage that still gets faces, and you can have a camera on the guest and one on the host, shooting across the stage diagonally and getting both parties' faces full-flush.

Sometimes the guest sits on a couch or something, which would be more difficult to angle, but it's easier for the guest to angle himself on a couch.
posted by YoungAmerican at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2007

I think you're right, grumblebee. Compare Paar's "Tonight Show" to Mike Wallace's early interview shows in the 1950s, where he and the subject sat face-to-face in a darkened studio, and the cameras mostly shot over the shoulders of the two people.
posted by briank at 11:04 AM on October 2, 2007

Don't the UK shows have shots with both host and guest in the frame? They must not; if they did the audience would be looking at the back of the guest or the back of the host or the two in profile. PROFILE? What is that, some kind of artsy, limey, intellectual angle we are supposed to decode?


Besides, why would the host look at the guest or vice versa? They need to be looking at the AUDIENCE. At US.

For WE ARE THE CONSUMERS and WE RULE and if we feel for an instant un-looked-at or uncatered-to, we might not learn that we should smear our faces with Oreo cookie pizza tonight and we might forget to use our Capital One cards. Which would cause the dollar to tank and the world to end.

All of American TV is pandering to consumers to sell cars and snacks, and I'm sure that extends to talk show blocking. I bet it has to do with Piaget's stages of infant development. Like, the first thing an infant learns to recognize is a human face. I bet profiles come months later. Even for adults it probably takes a few milliseconds more to parse a face in profile, so since we're at all times trying to extend a warm welcome to the collective lizard brain that induces nationwide purchases of hotwings and Hummers and crap that keep the whole glorious ball of US hegemony rolling, you would in general rather show the full face than the profile.

Colbert interviews his guests across a table. He faces them. He is playing a dangerous game.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:13 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

The photo on the Tonight Show web site seems to indicate the the main guest chair is at an angle to Leno's desk, and then the couch is angled a little bit more.
posted by Robert Angelo at 11:37 AM on October 2, 2007

First of all, this isn't an absolute. Charlie Rose and Jon Stewart, for example, both face their interviewees. Larry King does also, notably; any footage of a guest speaking on his show has hunched shoulders and suspenders in the foreground. Shows like David Letterman's and Conan O'Brien's, which I assume you are referring to, have the host and guest facing in the same general direction, but as YoungAmerican points out, usually at a (occasionally subtle) diagonal. This gives the studio audience a favorable view, the TV audience sees whatever the camera sees, and the guest and host can chat in a relaxed manner.

Incidentally, I think the two approaches (face to face vs. diagonal) are beneficial to one type of chat show over another. Stewart, Rose and King are generally speaking with politicians, authors, newsmakers, etc. while Letterman, O'Brien, etc. are generally talking with actors, musicians and other cultural icons. The first gives the audience (TV and studio) the feeling of listening in on a conversation while the second has the audience almost participating in the conversation--usually in the form of applause and guffaws. The face to face approach is often used for more "serious" shows as the audience's relative seclusion from the conversation can let the two important people on the stage have a real, honest talk with each other. In the diagonal approach, the guest is expected to ham it up for everyone listening in.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

US talk shows are fora for celebritantes to plug new movies/books/albums. These attention whores (and I mean that in the best sense of the term) want the focus on them, not on the banal banter that is to follow their "appearance". On shows where the talking is the focus, they face each other.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:53 PM on October 2, 2007

I challenge that not all TV chat shows in the UK have face to face interviews. I don't think Jay Leno's angles are that far off Parky's, it's just that the camera angle's different, and there's no desk. Admittedly, Parky does use swinging chairs, which does help (and it means that he and the interviewees can goon to the camera all they like).

For reference, here's what a chat show in the UK can look like.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:31 PM on October 2, 2007

I think it has to do with the multiple-camera set up (ie: if they're facing each other its harder to get a full on face shot w/o having a camera in the reverse shot) as well as to do with older sound recording methods 'back in the day.' It's stuck because, well that's the way we do things! Why do newscasters sit at a desk with a little window of pictures in the corner? Why are most sitcom sets missing a literal fourth wall?
posted by SassHat at 8:24 PM on October 2, 2007

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