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Fallen stars of the talk show circuit

New comedies have long been a tough sell in TV-land.  When they’re hot, they’re known by everyone and pack some of the biggest salary contracts in the industry.  But when they’re not, they disappear like Kal Penn’s Sunnyside after just four episodes.

The only arena as tough and unforgiving as sitcoms is the daytime talk show. Over the last twenty years, twice that number of stars have attempted the daytime format.

All My Children actress, Kelly Ripa started her morning show reign in 2001 and has gone through three co-hosts.  After coming out on her sitcom, Ellen took over the afternoons in 2003, earning 59 Emmy nominations and 32 wins. Model Tyra Banks and singer Queen Latifah managed five years with their respective shows while comedian Rosie O’Donnell lasted six.

However, in the “one season or less” group is Kris Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Megan Mullally, Martin Short, Bethanny Frankel, Wanda Sykes, and Busy Phillips.  The biggest losers were Magic Johnson (three months), actor Zach Galifianakis (nine weeks) and the record-holding Chevy Chase (five weeks).

With so many stars on the chopping blocks, why would anyone sign-up for such rejection?  And yet, each season someone “creates” a new talk show.

But is anyone really creating anything new?  The host enters, talks to the audience briefly, then introduces a guest.  They show pictures and talk about what they’ve been doing.  The guest leaves.  Repeat with another guest.  What’s new?

Of course, it wasn’t always that way.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s, Phil Donahue, Sally Jesse Raphael, and the queen herself, Oprah, served up the heaviest subjects possible.  Race, disease, sexuality, crime, and self-help were tackled from every direction.  And viewers were educated.

Other hosts took the trend further with shock TV: ambushing guests with embarrassing secrets or staging live confrontations.  Anything could – and did – happen.  Geraldo Rivera had a chair thrown at him during a White Aryan Nation “discussion” and a Jenny Jones guest was murdered after revealing homosexual feelings for a friend.

But over time, audiences got tired of bad news, worse behaviour and caring so much.

Ellen Degeneres made it okay to just have fun for an hour.  She was the self-proclaimed anti-Oprah: she skipped the experts and used social media, YouTube videos, and silly games.  She honoured everyday folk and recognized their unique talents.  In her own way, she was the last trail-blazer in daytime talk.

That doesn’t mean that others don’t keep trying.  This fall, country singer Kelly Clarkson launched her own show with the biggest debut in years.  But with little to offer except bursting into song and talking over her guests, Kelly’s show has since then steadily slid in the ratings.

And now, Hollywood darling Drew Barrymore has announced that she too is “creating [a] show with CBS.”  What will she do to stand out from the dozens who have gone – and failed – before her?  Who knows?

Of course, Barrymore’s “creation” could be a hit.  But based on history, it could also break Chevy Chase’s record.