phone-ins and chat shows

   Chat shows involve a regular presenter interviewing various celebrities in a consistent format. Though guests appear to promote products, the interview focuses upon a gentle, entertaining revelation of their humanity. The successful host skilfully mediates between naturalistic conversation and a genuine search for personal insight. On radio, Wilfred Pickles interviewed guests informally (Have A Go, 1948), but it was Michael Parkinson who popularized the chat show as a television genre, succeeded by Terry Wogan, whose eponymous show ran for fifteen years. Desert Island Discs (Radio 4) is the longest running radio chat show, probably due to the flexible interest of its invariable question. Current daytime chat shows (such as This MorningWith Richard and Judy, ITV) foreground friendliness and do not attempt unpleasantly personal questions. However, some hosts entertain by exploiting the genre’s pseudo-revelatory nature to ask truly difficult questions, and it is then that the format segues into television comedy. Clive Anderson displays his quick wit at his guests’ expense (Clive Anderson Talks Back, 1990), and Edna Everage’s guests are foils to her comic routine. Caroline Aherne’s Mrs Merton (1995) is the most recent in this tradition. Steve Coogan invents fictional guests to heighten the incapability of Alan Partridge, his creation (Knowing Me, Knowing You, 1995).
   Phone-ins also rely upon the creation of a familiar register. A radio or television presenter invites the audience to contribute live to a programme. Call Nick Ross on Radio 4 debated more cerebral issues, but in the entertainment sector of the phone-in, callers pose questions to celebrities or answer questions themselves for prizes; on other programmes those with emotional problems are encouraged to phone, the anonymity of the exercise allowing voyeuristic discussion of personal trauma. On local radio, this inexpensive genre is continually popular. Public interest in the private lives of both celebrities and nonentities means that chat show and phone-in techniques now define many presenter-led shows; Kilroy! and Vanessa combine public discussion of social and personal problems with chat show style interviews, as does The TimeThe Place, a live studio debate (ITV). The division between viewer and presenter is becoming deliberately blurred to promote a contemporary, spontaneous image. This seems particularly true of breakfast television and radio. Chris Evans incorporated an open phone and fax line into his shows (Radio One Breakfast Show and The Big Breakfast, Channel 4) rather than setting aside a particular time for phone-ins.
   SARAH CASTELL

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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