Inane Talk Show Hosts of the Boob Tube
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-08-01
I can never understand how some of our television talk show hosts ever got to be selected. It is bad enough that totally inept and mentally-challenged politicians get to be elected in critical positions. But to have TV talk show hosts who supposedly fall under the supervision and better judgment of network managers acting like they know it all and want only to put forward their own sound bites, is an unthinkable imposition and an insult on TV audiences.
I do understand that TV is also referred to as the ‘boob’ tube, derived from the Spanish word bobo or in English, ‘stupid’, but I still do not find this as an excuse for force-feeding the public with egomaniacal half-wits as broadcast hosts.

It is one thing to ask incisive questions, but it is another thing to use fourth estate privilege to step all over your guest in an obvious display of conceit and arrogance. In their miserable attempt to perhaps mimic their hard-hitting foreign counterparts, these boob tube show-offs take predatory pleasure in pummeling their invited victims with questions intended only to project themselves as the star of the show. Using their air time to project their vainglorious dreams to be at the limelight, they find controversial personalities and issues their perfect launch pads for personal exaltation.

Lately, we watched them with disgust as they rode high on developments in the news pointing to an impending ouster of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over the “Gloriagate” tape. You expect to draw the most insights and perspectives from the guest only to find yourself frustrated by the TV viewing equivalent of coitus interuptus – all because the TV host cared only in creating the sound bites. Nothing that the guest tried to say, no matter how interesting or relevant mattered at all. How sad that the incompetent cannot discern incompetence and such a TV host perhaps does not know any better other than to cater to the needs of a much impoverished sense of self and propriety.

Neurotics and ego-trippers should not vent their lack of psychiatric care on the poor TV audiences. This country is already run by the incompetent and corrupt – we ought to at least have a fourth estate that can offer some hope and inspiration. Our country already suffers from a gaping information divide among the socio-economic classes and we certainly do not need these horribly-moderated talk shows to add to all the confusion.

I often wonder why the network bosses have not yet fired them. I was once a president of a major national radio and television network and these hosts that I am talking about would not have landed a hosting job under my management. In fact, during my term as president of the network, I ran a minimum number of talk shows because I was unwilling to run a show without a host that meets professional standards.

Among the most common shortcomings of these pseudo-facilitators are the following:

Not sufficiently researching the subject matter or guest’s background

One of the reasons why my late friend Teddy Benigno was a multi-awarded television program host for the erstwhile “Firing Line” was because he studied his subject matter and his guests as well. When Teddy interviewed Zbigniew Brezinski and Margaret Thatcher, he was totally familiar with their positions and actions on key issues and controversies. That enabled Teddy to skirt the non-essential topics and focus on the most interesting ones.

If some of these irritating talk show hosts I speak of ever got a 30-minute one-on-one with Saddam Hussein, I have no doubt they would have asked such inane questions as “What do you eat for breakfast?” or, “How do feel about wearing blue jeans?” Give them one of the most controversial figures of contemporary history and they will reduce the subject matter to “bacon and eggs” and casual blue-collar fashion.

Inability to discern substance from pacing

In the mad drive for ratings, networks at times overemphasize the importance of fast pacing so that the show does not drag and viewers are not tempted to shift channels. The inept talk show host misinterprets this to mean “give the guest only two sentences to answer and then jump to the next question.”

To ask the Pope why he cannot allow abortion and then give him a mere two sentences to answer in order to maintain your “imagined desired pace” – is an act that deserves ex-communication and outright condemnation to hellfire. It is how engrossing a subject matter is and not the number of questions asked that attracts and maintains audience interest.

Pacing has different dimensions – depending on program format. Fast cut to cuts and intro-extros define pacing for dramas and action/adventure series. To apply that on talk shows is to wreak havoc. If a guest is describing in detail how a top official accepted a billion peso bribe during a clandestine meeting with a drug lord, a host will do well to give the guest uninterrupted time. Interruption is justified only if the guest is starting to repeat himself or has moved to less substantial ground.

Moderating with a bias

Some of these talk show hosts cannot even hide their biases when they ask questions. Some may be forced to patronize a particular point of view that the network owners are partial to – and I know this to exist. Some have their personal point of view to promote and we saw a lot of this during elections. Some just simply cannot tolerate the point of view that they disagree with and this is the worst of the lot because this violates the journalist’s professional creed to present all points of views.

They invite representatives of opposing points of views to discuss an issue then they allow more time for that point of view that they favor and less time for that which runs counter to their bias. Another dirty trick played here is to cut short a good point being made and then jump to another question that is also addressed to the same speaker who, theoretically, is given equal time but not for the point that best promotes his position.

Hare-brained and scatterbrained

Some of these show hosts we speak of are simply hare-brained and scatterbrained. They cannot develop a good topic and so they jump from one incoherent discussion to another. Their minds are incapable of composing a complete tapestry and can only collate a montage of incoherent information bits. Nothing can be more infuriating than an interesting angle being pursued that is suddenly abbreviated by a host who does not appreciate thought development. Most of the time, you get this from hosts who want more to talk than to draw answers from the guest.

Surprisingly, many of these show hosts we are talking about are found in talk shows that are directed at AB and upper C (socio-economic classes) adult audiences. One would think that someone who is conducting a talk show to a more sophisticated audience like that would have matched the target audience’s more professional level of appreciation. But that is not always the case. To label their kind of hosting as amateurish is to unfairly insult amateurs. I have seen amateurs in a university television workshop do a much better job.

I end up wondering who taught these hosts their basics or who do they revere as their hosting model. Program hosts have their respective role models whom they try to emulate just as news anchors of old would have a Walter Cronkite as their role model. From their performance, it is clear that they do no look up to the likes of Michael Parkinson, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey or Christian Amanpour as role models. In local television, we at least have Randy David, Ricky Carandang and Che Che Lazaro setting the right standard for conducting a TV talk show.

Michael Parkinson is a host’s host. Ditto with Larry King. You would never see them rushing a guest or trying to limit a guest’s say on a topic. What they do to perfection is to pose questions that draw interesting answers. What has always shone through was their respect for their guests and what they had to say. Granted that Parkinson is not hosting a show that delves on raging controversies, still his manner of conducting his show is done to exquisite professional perfection. Regardless if King is moderating a controversial issue or not, he never deviates from his professional standards as a television talk show host and this was best seen when he moderated CNN talk shows that featured the combatants in the OJ Simpson Trial.

Nothing can be a better indicator of how bad our television standards are than the fact that icons like Randy David and Che Che Lazaro are not moderating shows on the top networks. I suppose the best of this rare breed also happens to apply their objectivity and sense of fairness even in areas that can hurt the business and personal interests of the network bosses. Is that the reason why these network bosses do not really care to tap top caliber talk show hosts?

In deference to the serious information gaps in our country, network bosses should set aside their ratings criterion for public affairs shows. Talk shows have traditionally been non-raters; quite unlike the magazine shows of Mike Enriquez and Arnold Clavio and the rest of the primetime entertainment menu. It would be to the best interest of public service for networks to maintain some top caliber discussions on the most sensitive issues affecting the nation, discussions that can only be entrusted to the likes of capable moderators like Randy and Che Che.

Ricky Carandang shows the same quality of professionalism during the few times that he has taken over talk shows whose regular hosts were on vacation or sick. Carandang shows what asking the right questions can do to bring out the best in a guest or a topic.

Some talk show hosts miss the point altogether – thinking that viewers want to watch them perform. They are too engrossed with their narcissistic agenda that they fail to realize that people watch because they want to get the latest on raging controversies. They become favorite show hosts only after they have established their credibility. And that credibility is gained as the public sees the delivery of values they seek in TV hosting, whether this involves a bombshell of an expose or an interesting guest.

Let’s have some brains in the people who moderate on the boob tube. The viewers deserve better.

You may email William M. Esposo at:

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