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The new talk show kings: Ferguson, Carolla and Pollak?

November 5, 2010

Note to David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Charlie Rose, Larry King, Barbara Walters, Regis and Kelly, Oprah and Ellen: your time has passed.

If you want to hear actually engaging interviews, with a variety of interesting people, in a long-form format, you now have three great options – Craig Ferguson on the CBS’ Late Late Show, the Adam Carolla Podcast, and Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. These are three interviewers, with very different shows, who do an equally great job of both entertaining and informing.

Allow me to explain each show in the order that I become a fan.

I recall when Craig Kilborn decided to leave the Late Late Show. His boss and lead in, Letterman, decided to essentially conduct open auditions for several months. A lot of fairly big name B-list celebrities vied for the the job. Shockingly, the job went to a little known Scottish character actor whose biggest claim to fame was appearing in The Drew Carey Show as the morally bankrupt Mr. Wick.

This recovering alcoholic and drug abuser with the funny accent has gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed interviewers and chat show hosts on the air today. How critically acclaimed? He won a Peabody Award for his interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. An interview that aired around 12:30 AM after a more well-known show that features Stupid Human Tricks and tosses watermelons off a New York City roof.

Here’s why Ferguson is so good, he doesn’t use note cards and he seems honestly engaged, no matter who he’s interviewing – Condoleezza Rice, Carl Reiner, the guys from Mythbusters, or Marion Cotillard. Earlier this year, he eschewed the standard talk show format for one show and dropped the desk, gimmicks and audience for his interview with British entertainer and commentator Stephen Fry. It was astoundingly good. A great conversation between two learned individuals surrounding a host of topics.

I feel a transition coming on…

Which brings us to my second favorite interviewer, former Loveline co-host, Man Show co-host and fired Howard Stern terrestrial radio replacement, Adam Carolla.

I started listening to the Aceman back in 2008 when he was still on the radio at KLSX in Los Angeles. His morning show with Teresa Strasser and “Bald Bryan” Bishop ran for several years in LA. He got the gig when Stern moved to satellite radio and the powers that be were looking for celebrities to fill the King of All Media’s shoes. On the East Coast we were subjected to David Lee Roth. We got the worse end of the deal.

The KLSX show was available on iTunes as a downloadable podcast. At the time, one of only two podcasts I listened to, Carolla and ESPN’s Page 2 columnist “The Sports Guy” Bill Simmons. The Carolla morning show, which I listened to while commuting, was a great mix of pop culture, news, celebrity interviews and a whole lot of Carolla ranting and raving about everything.

But he never came off as a Limbaugh or O’Reilly blowhard, his rants were always well-reasoned. While you might not agree with his conclusions, I had to give him credit for thinking them through logically.

On February 20, 2009 his show got the axe. The radio station owners wanted to go cheaper so they fired their talent and moved to a Top 40 format. It was a purely business related decision that Carolla never complained about and left the air with head held high.

On February 23 the Adam Carolla Podcast was born.

The brain child of his best friend Donny “The Wheez” Misraje, Carolla went digital and over time recreated his morning show format – brought back his regular cast of characters and shrunk the playtime from 4 hours to 90 minutes. The daily Adam Corolla Podcast is routinely the most downloaded podcast on iTunes with 150,000 downloads daily.

So how does a fired former radio become the king of new media? It’s really all about him. Much like Stern, Carolla just does his thing. He straps on a microphone and basically talks for 90 minutes. He plays off his cohorts and guests and lets the conversation move organically from topic to topic. His interview with Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe is an excellent example of a great conversation between two guys on a myriad of barely connected topics. It’s like listening to two of your more articulate buddies discuss cars, women, opera, QVC and the American working man.

And the best part, it’s all free. No subscriptions to purchase and you can listen to it on-demand. Carolla routinely mentions that while he’s the leader of new media, he’s also poor as dirt. He created his media “empire” on the final payouts of his radio job. He hasn’t quite figured out how to monetize the thing everyone is interested in, but that hasn’t stopped him from creating nine more shows on his Ace Broadcasting Network. His empire sports a parenting show, a film show, a car show, several other comic shows, and a sports show.

Is that a transition around the corner?

Speaking of creating a new career, did you know that famed character actor and comic Kevin Pollak also has a chat show? He does, surprisingly named, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.

Pollak has impressively fused the talk show format of Ferguson with the new media access of Carolla and created a weekly on-line show that allows him and the viewer to dig deeply into the minds and backgrounds of his weekly guests. Pollak’s show debuted a month after Carolla’s and has been gaining in popularity ever since.

With 68 episodes under his belt, Pollak and his production team have found both their footing and their niche. Instead of trying to force a lot of standard chat show gimmicks into the program, they keep it simple, Charlie Rose style – a darkened room, a simple table and two people taking… for nearly 2 hours.

I’ve listened to about half the episodes (I download them as audio casts as opposed to watching the internet broadcast or video archives). Because of the interview style, the show never feels like it’s 2 hours in length. By the time it’s done you think, “Woah, it’s over already?” And that can be credited to the interview style of Pollak, who has really embraced the long-form technique. Because it’s the internet and there are no commercial breaks or end times, Pollak has the opportunity to uncover a lot of truly interesting background in his entertainer guests that would never be reached in a standard late night or daytime talk show with only 8 minutes to conduct an interview.

In my opinion, his best show – a credit to both interviewer and interviewee – is episode 64 with three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston. Just outstanding. You’ll learn things about television and movies you never knew. How do shows really come to fruition, how do you stay “normal” in Hollywood, how do you be a good father and husband as well as an employed actor?

If you want to bust a gut laughing, check out an early show with Matthew Perry, episode 7. You’ll never see Perry in the same light again.

Wanna know how to move from a Rhode Island nobody to the most well-known animator of all time? Episode 21 with Seth MacFarlane.

Oh and he interviews Carolla (10) and Ferguson (53), too.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Martha permalink
    November 5, 2010 2:43 PM

    Since I cant listen to Stern anymore ill move on to carolla’s podcast. Thanks Mike. Great Blog…

  2. Orphie permalink
    November 5, 2010 8:15 PM

    Ferguson deserves the accolades for his interviewing style, but unfortunately, you have to wait or wade through the low-rent, overly-indulgent and cute vamping that precedes the meat of the matter. He’s either the butchest gay guy or the gayest butch guy you’ll see on the television machine.

    Pollack gets points for the interesting array of talent he has corralled. The low-key, meandering approach lets things breathe and generally, it’s more fascinating than not.

    Corolla? Too self-enamored for my taste. Can’t say I’ve bothered with the podcast thing.

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