Does anyone remember Mike Douglas? Not Kirk’s son, but the singer, or more to the point the talk show host. If you’re old enough to know what the dial is in “don’t touch that dial” you remember talk shows. There were the urbane slightly sexy late-night variety, that is still offered, though diluted, today. Mike and his contemporaries; Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin were on during the daytime hours. They had each been singers during the big band era and were all incredibly affable.
Each weekday, Mike, Dinah and Merv would host guests, sing a little tune and perhaps perform in an iffy sketch. But it was the guests one really tuned in for. The known and unknown would flock to the couches (and chairs) to chat. Maybe they would perform a bit, but mostly they were there to chat. There was nothing being sold or pitched or positioned. The host (whether M, D or M) would engage the guest (as a good host does) and entertain us with their conversation. The guests were incredibly varied and included political and controversial figures (they also included dancing dogs.) Many of the guests were boldfaced names of Broadway and Hollywood. Others were simply great conversationalists. Some guests were clearly friends of M, D or M, some just dropped by while passing through town. The guests would not then reappear spouting the exact same quips on the couch of the remaining M, D or M. There wasn’t a circuit being run guided by handlers.
Daytime television has changed much over the decades. The popular rhetoric is that people are not home during the day to watch television. But of course this does nothing to explain the spate of news-lite talk shows. For at least a decade the networks, and others, have filled their morning programming with chattering, relatively unscripted talk shows. There are usually a gaggle of hosts sitting around drinking out of large mugs and perhaps a guest drops by to sell his/her wares. There are a small handful of afternoon talk shows built around a host. Every pilot season a new “oh is that what happened to him/her?” celebrity is packaged and (hopefully) sold as a talk show host. Some find their groove some do not. It hardly matters for the guests are exactly the same on each and every show. The questions asked are the same (as written and contracted by handlers) the answers and ‘ad libs’ are the same. The movie, book, show, image, is pitched, the host fawns and everyone goes home happy. You could spend a week clicking the remote and see and hear the exact same thing on each and every show. There is no longer a place for Tiny Tim (look him up), Norman Mailler, a yogi, Martin Luther King Jr., Liberace, Truman Capote or Spiro Agnew (look him up) on the couch, unless of course they were selling their reality show.
Is memory rose colored? One would desperately hope. Who wants to spend their later years remembering anything but hazy romantic perfectly lit moments? But even if the memories are completely faulty and that of a child, even if Minnie Pearl was in fact selling a line of hats, wouldn’t it be grand to have Mike, Dinah and Merv back on the air? How much more entertaining would it be to hear extended conversations without being sold anything besides soap and canned soup? Wouldn’t it be fun to see stars of yesteryear and the yet undiscovered side by side? How interesting would it be to hear from actual writers and artists and even politicians? And to have all of it delivered with a thousand watt smile and a song? Don’t touch that dial.