This essay aims to provide a brief survey of 'talk shows' in Turkey taking into account the origins of the genre in America. While doing this, 'talk shows' that are made for purely entertainment will be the main focus of discussion in this paper. Since the term has gained different meanings talk shows or chat shows made for educating or informing the audience (such as 'Oprah Winfrey Show', 'Geraldo' or 'Larry King Live' in America and 'Tek-e Tek' or 'Ayşe Özgün Show' in Turkey) will not be taken into consideration as examples.
With the introduction of the first private channel (Star TV) in 1990, Turkish audience was introduced to a series of programmes with western (mainly American) formats and more and more American movies, TV series and sitcoms. TRT (Turkish Radio and Television) - the state channel - on the other hand had been broadcasting within certain restrictions both in news and entertainment. It was also not very open to foreign productions.
The big majority of the viewers (the youth) instantly shifted from private channel has ended up with a series of similar programmes - which are still changing quite fast.
The development of talk shows in Turkey is parallel to that of TV stations. At first, there was only one TV station TRT with only one 'chat programme'. It was called 'Orhan Boran'la Pazar Geceleri', with famous guests, no studio audience and no music. The programme was also taped. So, it was not a 'show', neither did it try to be. It was a programme in which a host, by asking many questions, tried to show different sides of the particular guests' characters. It didn't aim to make people laugh either. The programme and the host (Orhan Boran) received such great appreciation from the audience that it lasted for over two decades under few different names and on few TV stations.
After Orhan Boran, the first 'talk show' to appear on TV in the beginning of the 90s was 'Laf Lafı Açıyor'. The viewers were introduced to moving cameras, a studio audience, live music in the show and a daring host who could get cross with the guest(s). With 'Televizyon Çocuğu' (on A TV) the host became even more daring. The audience in the studio got physically closer to the host and to the guest(s)-who were also not supposed to be that famous. A finger camera was used for the first time in this show. It also had viewers phoning in (this was first done by the same host, in 1995, in another talk show- 'Gece Kuşu'- which didn't last long) with the host hanging up on them with all the audience participating enthusiastically. Plus, these are all done live and after midnight.
I personally believe that the development of talk shows in Turkey has been an exciting progress considering the time they first appeared on screen and the place they have reached today.
TALK SHOWS IN TURKEY
"... I mean the way you talk has affected even me here. If we were in a bar you could get me into bed within fifteen minutes..." (Bayülgen 1996 b)
This is not a scene from a film, neither it is an overheard conversation between a man and a woman. This is the male host of the most watched talk show1 in turkey ('Televizyon Çocuğu') talking to a male caller live on the telephone and making the audience in the studio laugh themselves to death. Though 'talk shows' do not have a long history on Turkish television, they are incredibly popular especially among the young. The origin of the talk show genre lays in 'stand-up comedy' which was most popular in America on stage after the Second World War. Soon after it was transferred to radio and television stations. The genre was used successfully for a long time (more than three decades) by Johnny Carson on American TV. "By 1954, after only two years on the air, 'Today' - Carson's show- was NBC's most profitable show." (Munson 1993: 51). Recently his name is pointed out as one of the '50 Greatest TV Starts of All Time' by 'TV Guide' (Inter.net). Chat shows on American TVs have changed since the early 50s. The most significant show from those days is 'Tonight' that Johnny Carson hosted for over 3 decades.
"... Tonight relied on interviews combined, magazine-style, with various other bits-performances, presentations, news, and some audience participation- often in forms that took the host into the audience." (Munson 1993)
Today there are two names to be mentioned talking of the 'talk show' genre in America: David Letterman and Jay Leno. These two people are so successful in their shows that they are not popular only in America but also all over the world (Turgut 1997 and Wild 1996: 76-78). They are the biggest rivals just like their networks (CBS and NBC). It is significant that Letterman and Leno are the two most popular talk show hosts in the world with their shows ('Late Show with David Letterman' and 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno') whereas the genre has also been used in many other countries. I think this is because the term 'show' itself is originally American and the TV sector has reached and kept its idealized place since long ago. Broadcasting in America is the oldest and the most developed in the world. This, inevitably helps any kind of programme have a certain degree of quality and style.
Just like the TV broadcasting, the 'talk show' genre in America became the pioneer for all the rest of the world including Turkey.
The first chat show hosted by Orhan Boran lasted for over 20 years-under a few different names. Boran was the first person to have famous guests and talk to them in front of the TV cameras. He has said "There was 'talk' but no 'show' in my programmes." (Boran 1996). He also disagrees with the term' talk show' saying that it represents the American format but his programmes were completely different (Boran 1996). They were the programmes in which he used to have a chat with his famous guests and no studio audience. It was not a 'show' neither did it try to be. It was a programme in which a host, by asking questions, showed different sides of the guest(s). It didn't aim to make people laugh either. So, he doesn't think that he- personally- had an impact on the hosts and the talk shows of today; although nearly all the hosts and viewers think the opposite.
Talk shows are (or should be) made for entertaining the audience by using elements like live music, stand-up show, funny video drop-ins and etc. Orhan Boran thinks that talk shows are light entertainment programmes both in Turkey and abroad (Boran 1997). As to Cem Özer (the host of 'Laf Lafı Açıyor) the aim of talk shows is to entertain the audience through a talk-made with famous people. He says that informing the audience about the guest(s) is not the real aim (Özer 1997). Although he thinks that a talk show should be based on 'talk' he uses all the other elements such as live music and stand-up comedy.
Both Boran and Özer agree that talk shows were first created in America, so it is inevitable that Turkish talk shows have been influenced by American talk shows since they are the pioneers of this genre on TV (Boran 1997 and Özer 1997).
Today's most popular talk shows in Turkey ('Laf Lafı Açıyor' and 'Televizyon Çocuğu') have many common points with the ones in America ('Late show with David Letterman' and 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'). The talk show hosts in Turkey do stand-up comedy in their show, use the studio audience and side-kicks (or people in the role of a side-kick) and live music like the two hosts in America. Except 'Televizyon Çocuğu' which broadcasts live, the others are taped with the live-on-tape technique. As to the setting they all have a big sofa for the guests, a table and a chair for the host with a view of the city (in which the show is on air) in the background.
The significant difference is that the two talk shows in America use stand-up comedy as the base of the show. As Jay Leno states, more than half of the show is over before the first guest comes out (Wild 1997:78). The talk show hosts are made much more popular than the guests and even the show itself. I think this is because it is thought that having a very popular host on air every night is a better alternative to having a very popular guest once in a while. As Leno says people want to watch somebody they know in the late-night programmes (Wild 1997: 77). It seems that the audience is more interested in the host than the guests whereas in Turkey the situation is a bit different. Though recently the hosts seem to attrack more attention than the guests (Boran 1997 and Özer 1997), the time left for the host himself only, is much less than half of the show. The host spends most of the show talking to his guest(s) and if possible, creating humor out of the conversation. I believe that this is because of the style of the host himself and the show itself. In America talk shows are built on the hosts' charisma. The two most popular shows are named after their hosts: 'Late show with David Letterman' and 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno' whereas the ones in Turkey have their own names: 'Laf Lafı Açıyor' and 'Televizyon Çocuğu' but still very popular hosts. Orhan Boran says that since he wasn't doing a show he was not attracting more attention than his guest(s), he also adds that there was no such concept at the time he started hosting his programme. (Boran 1997). But now, television networks employ people who are already famous, I think to ensure that the show will be watched by mass audiences. Özer also agrees that television relies on stars; so no matter how good the director is if the star (the showman), is not good, the programme cannot be successful (Özer 1997). But this should not suggest that 'every star' can be a talk show host.
Apart from the similarities mentioned above talk shows in Turkey have different elements as well. As oppose to the ones in America, talk shows in Turkey can be presented not only by showmen but also by singers, radio DJs, actors/actresses. Cem Özer thinks that the style of talk shows in Turkey is slightly different basicly because of the numerous singers as hosts and guests (Özer 1997).
It has been about 6 years since 'Laf Lafı Açıyor' was first broadcast on TV. Within this time about 7 private TV stations have opened - not counting local ones - and many talk shows have appeared. Though these were not similar to 'Laf Lafı Açıyor' in any way, they were accepted under the talk show category in AGB's (Audit Great Britain) monthly rating reports.
Recently, there are about 20-25 so called talk shows in Turkey. Most of them are based on just music and entertainment with the aim of obtaining higher ratings. The hosts of these shows are either singers and-or film stars (i.e. İbrahim Tatlıses, Hülya Avşar, Bülent Ersoy) who became famous through the media, and decided to host a talk show of their own. Since most of these people are not professional showmen/showwomen or presenters, they use other elements such as music and a side-kick to fill in their programmes without being have to talk much and amuse the audience with spontaneous humor. Some of them are signers themselves and they invite one or two other famous singers, too; and have a 'talk show' more than half of which is filled with music. The other thing they usually do is to use the side-kick as a reminder of breaks for advertisements or as a figure to add humor to the show2. In this way, they seem to get rid of the burden of giving breaks for advertisements without worrying how to interrupt the guest(s) and creating a few laughs for the audience in the studio. The side-kick acts as an intruder and does all (sometimes trying real hard to be funny).
Despite all, these talk shows do get ratings. Some of them even get very high ratings3. I think there are some reasons for this: First of all talk shows are nearly the only programmes where famous singers sit and talk about themselves and their work. Since viewers are interested in celebrities, they watch these programmes to learn more about that particular singer and even to talk to him/her in person on line.
Viewers also watch the singers on TV because most of them may not be able to see them singing live. If a singer is to appear on TV, it is for sure that he/she is going to sing as it has been the tradition.
As for the singer-hosts, there is always more to explore in them and the viewers know that they will perform in each and every programme. So, watching a 'talk show' of them, means watching a 'song show' of them and that seems to be fine with some viewers. I believe that this is not only because of the host himself/herself who already has a certain number of fans, but also because of the popularity of the TV station, the guests, the time of broadcasting and the quality or the popularity of the music performed in the programme5.
Here arises the question 'Do ratings mean everything?' The biggest TV stations in Turkey seem to be in competition to get highest ratings. One can see this in their constant on screen rating reports showing themselves as the number one (at a certain date or a certain period of time). This shows that more or less every programme needs to get a certain level of ratings to survive. This is accepted by both Orhan Boran and Cem Özer (Boran 1996 and Özer 1996). It seems that no matter what the format is if a show gets enough ratings it survives since then it becomes profitable for the TV station. That is why in Turkey we have two different trends in talk shows. First one is carrying the same format with American talk shows and the second one is the song shows of well-known singers.
Cem Özer has been hosting the first 'talk show' in Turkey for about 6 years. His show has become very popular since the first couple of weeks it was on air. He says:
"The idea of 'talk show' has come to life with 'Laf Lafı Açıyor'. It added show and humor to chat programmes... For every programme on TV, it was also the first to use many visual effects. Turkish viewers were for the first time introduced to moving TV cameras, live music, a big studio, 3-sided-decor, street interviews (VCR) and a live-on-tape programme with many more new ways of doing things. This, created a standard for the later TV productions." (Özer 1996)
Throughout this 6 years the show had few changes. There was no stand-up comedy in the first year. He also had a side-kick who played the antagonist during the show. The show was built on the 'talk' with the guest(s). He asked questions no one dared to ask previously and created an image of a direct and a 'real' persona even at the cost of a controversial discussion with the guest(s). He was also very good at pun and could easily create humor out of a conversation. As years went by he became the centre of the show and started doing stand-up comedy, dancing and even playing a musical instrument during the show. Today, he is the central figure in the show. He starts his show with stand-up making 15-20 jokes (Jay Leno makes about 25 jokes during his stand-up)6. He also has a band playing live music and a studio audience. He does not have a former side-kick anymore; he does not use video drop-ins, either. But, he has a softer attitude to this guests and seems to concentrate more on the 'show' itself. 'Laf Lafı Açıyor' broadcasts on Saturdays on a private TV network (Channel D) from 11:00 P.M. to 12:00-12:30 A.M.
Since 'Laf Lafı Açıyor' there has been only one talk show with which one can draw a parallel. The programme- 'Televizyon Çocuğu'- started to broadcast in June 1996 an in just a few weeks became a phenomenon among the younger generation in Turkey. The host Okan Bayülgen thinks that this is not a coincidence. He says:
"'Televizyon Çocuğu' is a programme in which collectivism works perfectly well. I mean the director, the producer and the showman of this programme are all individually valued." (Bayülgen 1996 a)
'Televizyon Çocuğu' broadcasts live on a private TV network (A TV) four days (Monday to Thursday) a week, starting around 1 a.m. and finishing about 2:15 to 2:30 a.m. Okan Bayülgen claims that he invented the 'late-night-viewers' who are not as small in number as it was thought; although he reveals that he sometimes gets the feeling that he is actually doing an early morning show not a late night one.
Different from all the other talk shows, the programme makes the audience in the studio literally a part of the programme and even lets them 'interfere'. Another thing is the interactive side of it. The viewers are free to speak and say whatever they want to say. Though there's a limit to it which is set by Okan himself. The moment he says 'cut', you are off the air. He usually acts very unpredictably and this makes the show even more interesting. He never stands still and sometimes even makes his guest(s) run around. He makes jokes about one or two popular names in the media and his band members. Since he never forces himself to be funny, waiting for the right time for a joke he gets the best reaction from the audience. If he is not satisfied with it, he openly blames himself or the audience. Whatever he does he is natural or plays 'the natural him' very well.
Apart from all these positive things 'Televizyon Çocuğu' receives some negative reactions from the viewers and the press as well. It was claimed that he was too hard on the viewers on the telephone and was insulting them. He says that most viewers are quite aware of the fact that they are a part of the show and they act accordingly whereas some think that they are being insulted. He says he cannot do anything for them (Bayülgen 1996 a).
One other thing is the criticisms the programme itself gets for being too Americanized. He says that the TV sector is not like painting and there is no innovation in the whole world (Bayülgen 1996 a). Boran agrees with him saying that there's nothing left to be discovered in the sector especially considering the show programmes since the beginning of 90s (Boran 1997).
Admitting that 'Televizyon Çocuğu' has the same format with American talk shows, Bayülgen also adds:
"The television sector is so new in Turkey that we are all amateurs here. We are all learning... Turkish private TV stations have been trying to do in five years what the western TV stations have done in the last forty years. May be the most important thing to do for presentors, producers and the directors is not to panic." (Bayülgen 1996 c).
Among all the talk shows in Turkey 'Laf Lafı Açıyor' and 'Televizyon Çocuğu' seem to be the only ones that have overcome the painful process of making a Turkish talk show within American formats - since 'talk shows' are originally a part of the American culture not Turkish - and being appreciated by the public itself. Both shows seem to be the most popular ones especially among the younger generation in Turkey. They certainly have an influence on them. Being a young person, I can say that the young people in Turkey now appreciate most the media personalities who are direct, open and real as opposed to those (in the past and even in the present) who exist in a totally fake reality of extreme niceness and happiness on the screen. I believe that some TV programmes became a reason for this change. The two talk shows that are mentioned here stand out among these programmes. So, while aiming to entertain, these shows inevitably influence the viewers and are affected by them in return. This interrelation between the media - in general - and the public helps re-shape each, I believe.
Talk shows in Turkey do not have a long history just as the TV broadcasting. Before, there were chat programmes starting with 'Orhan Boran'la Pazar Geceleri' which has been the first and the most influential chat programme ever. With the openning of the first private TV network (Star TV) in 1990 the TV broadcasting has actually then started and gained tempo with the introduction of other private TV networks in a few years.
The appearance and the development of talk shows in Turkey are parallel to those of private TV networks. Starting decades after the ones in America (and the west), talk shows in Turkey have come to a stage on which they can compete and be compared with them - in less than a decade.
I believe that the western format of talk shows has successfully been adopted and developed and used in Turkey. The popularity of talk shows-of every type-in Turkey is one reason for this. The more viewers were interested in talk shows, the better the makers of these shows tried to do. They needed to compete with each other and the new shows appeared on screen. The other reason, I think, is the personal achievements of the people who have been producing, directing and hosting (especially Orhan Boran, Cem Özer and Okan Bayülgen) these shows. They have been the pioneers in terms of being the first and the most courageous people (with their team) who did something new-at least for Turkish viewers-each time.
With a few other newly introduced talk shows, I think talk shows in Turkey has reached their peak as different from TV broadcasting which still does not seem to be at its idealized place.
1 ABG Monthly Reports for July, August and September. 'Televizyon Çocuğu' share-total for July: 17.48 % 'Televizyon Çocuğu' share-total for August: 18.93 % 'Televizyon Çocuğu' share-total for September: 22.03 %
2 'Ibo Show'. September 27, 1997. The side-kick comes in, asks a few-meant to be - funny questions to the host and says that it is time for advertisements.
3 AGB Monthly Reports for February, March and April (1st. to 14th) 'Ibo Show' share-total for February: 30.13 % 'Ibo Show' share-total for March: 26.38 % 'Ibo Show' share-total for April (first half): 29.63 % 'Hülya Avşar Show' share-total for February: 17.80 % 'Hülya Avşar Show' share-total for March: 26.78 % 'Hülya Avşar Show' share-total for April (first half): 27.40 %
5 AGB Monthly Reports for February. 'Ibo Show' share-total for February (on A TV): 30.13 % 'Ibo Show' share-total for February (on Star TV): 17.85 %
6 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'. March 19, 1997 (on NBC International).
1996 a Interview by Demet Satılmış. October 22, Istanbul
1996 'Televizyon Çocuğu'. A TV, December 12, Istanbul.
1996 c 'Dr. Stress'. Star TV, October 13, Istanbul.
1996 Interview by Demet Satılmış. September 30, Istanbul.
1997 Interview by Demet Satılmış.February 13, Istanbul.
1997 What's New. CBS: http://www. cbs. com
1993 All Talk the Talkshow in Media Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
1997 Interview by Demet Satılmış. March 18, Istanbul.
1996 Interview by Demet Satılmış. November 14, Istanbul.
1997 'Jay Leno', Hürriyet (newspaper). October 29, Istanbul.
1996 'Jay Leno', Rolling Stones (magazine). January 11, New York.
The British Council ANKARA