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September 09, 1993 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1993-09-09

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Page 6-The Michigan Daily/New Student Edition-Arts-Thursday, September 9, 1993
The talk show generation? eY. °x..t. ..
A writer looks behind the scenes at the Montel Williams Show


by Darcy Lockman
Labels and misnomers - our gen-
eration has received its share of both.
They call us the MTV generation, or
Generation X.
Butwho comes up with these super-
fluous titles, these "pearls" as Norman
Maifer would call them, that attempt to
sumup with one catch phrase the en-
tirety, the entity that defines you, me
and the age in which we live? Certainly
not its own members (we could not
have, for those same people who label
us have seen fit to tell us that we are not
smart enough, or old enough yet, to
attempt to define ourselves).
'I trying to spit up pearls, these
lael1-ers omit so many of the complica-
tions that encompass our lives.
Aside from the t-shirt, one of the
most frequently overlooked pieces of
culture and influence from our genera-
tionuis the daytime talk show. Perhaps
lacking the longevity of the daytime
drama, this other form of soap opera has
come into its proverbial own in the last
demi-decade, becoming arguably more
influential than the soapoperain amuch
shorter time span. But it is a phenom-
enon about which no one ventures to
In what could only be described as
fitting, the evolution of the talk show is
neither particularly exciting, nor terri-

bly complicated. We all remember the
days when Phil Donahue played the
lone rider, ambitiously striving to cover
all the subjects about which Americana
By seeing how little
thinking the producers
of Montel wanted us as
a small audience to do,
I was able to grasp
what had only been a
fleeting fancy when I
watched from my
couch - to a greater
degree than other
television genres, the
talk show takes away
the at-home-viewers'
need to think and
yearned to learn. Alas, Phil could not fly
solo - so many necropheliac garden-
ers and the mothers who refuse to love
them, so little time to fill between com-
mercials. So on came Oprah, and Sally,
and Jenny Jones, and Geraldo, and -
oh, I do have limited space in which to
write. You know the rest, and the rest,
and the rest.
I have watched Oprah. I have

watched Phil. I have watched Jane
Whitney. I have even, in last ditch ef-
forts tojustify skipping class, flipped on
Jenny Jones. Call me an iconoclast, I
just don't get it. What about the talk
show holds interest for so many hours
on so many channels every working day
of the year? When Montel Williams
came to town last week, I could notpass
up the chance at cultural discovery. The
answers the TV had yet to provide, a
behind the scenes glance would surely
Naturally, I was not the only one in
the area who desired to spend an after-
noon wading through the American
psyche that is talk show, and I arrived at
the State Theater in Detroit (two hours
before the taping) to find a line that
wrapped itself around the corner, about
500 people thick. A mostly female but
otherwise heterogenous crowd waited
peacefully together, united in the ex-
citement of what would soon ensue.
When finally admitted, I landed a seat
stage right on the main floor. I was
primed for discovery.
Montel's stage manager: I will not
soon forget him, for he was to shatter
my talk show innocence. With a few
simple yet deliberate hand motions, he
would let us know when to clap, when
to be quietandwhen to hold up our arms
to ask questions. First pro-wrestling,


Montel Williams recently brought his talk show to Detroit. Our own Darcy Lockman went to sneak a peek.

now this. No one else showed any ad-
verse reaction to this announcement,
however, so I kept my disillusionment
to myself.
Then out flounced the producer, to
tell us the topic of today's show (they
refused to tell us when we got our
tickets, and even up until the last min-
utes before we were admitted to the
theater no one was allowed to know) -
Women Who Say They Can Steal Any
Man. Everyone laughed good
humoredly, briefly revealing a bit of
intelligence. It would be the last such
instance of the day.
The producer then let us know that
they were looking for our natural reac-
tions to the guests. I was confused. The
stage manager hadjust informed us that
we would be told when to clap, when to

quiet down and when to ask questions.
Where in those commandments was
room to be aunaturale? The stage man-
ager and the producer were obviously
not communicating very well (Co-work-
ers Who Don't Communicate, I think I
saw that on Jane Whitney).
On came Montel to tell us not to
move our lips with the monitor ("Those
are Montel's words," he explained em-
phatically), and then it was lights, cam-
era, action.
Excitement-wise, the day veered
downhill from there. Giovanna and Sa-
rah claimed they could steal anyone's
man. Giovanna boasted nine previous
steals, Sarah only one (I don't see what
made her such an expert, anyone can
steal one man). A woman named Shady
came on to talk about the seminars she


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(All performances in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre unless otherwise noted.)

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An extraordinarily inventive, side-splitting
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Song, dance and music are triumphantly
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A compassionate drama exploring the impact
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by william Shakespeare, directed by Kerry
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Combines a witty and intelligent battle of the
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Book by Authur Laurents, Music by Leonard
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed by
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May 18-21, 1994, at The Power Center for
the Performing Arts
This brilliant collaboration of Broadway
greats sets the moving love story of Romeo
and Juliet in the contemporary urban streets
of New York City.
by Neil Simon, directed by Russ Valvo
June 22-25, 1994 (dates subject to change)
A warm, perceptive and humourous play
based on Simon's adulthood. -

CIe -

gives: one on how to steal aman, one on
how to keep a man (I couldn't help but
wonder if her students ever came up
against one another for the attentions of
the same beau).
Giovanna's stolen ex-boyfriend, an
exotic dancer with the ability to hold his
muscles in the flexed position for longer
time periods than any man I've ever
seen, appeared to stir up some contro-
versy. And finally, out came a couple
that had been having an affair for four
years in which the woman had given
birth to four of the cheating man's chil-
dren (I was abit unsure of how these last
two fit in until I figured out that they
were probably just stragglers from the
previous taping).
Everything ran smoothly. We
clapped when told, we were quiet when
ordered, and we offered our questions
and natural reactions (I learned that
natural reaction was code word for boo-
ing those awful hoydens when they said
something immoral) in all the right
places. In recognition of all our hard
work, Montel assured us that he would
come back to Detroit, and even offered
us souvenir t-shirts (refer back to the
second paragraph, first line) for only
Calling up all my will power, I left
the State Theater t-shirt-less and headed
toward the Lodge to re-ponder the at-
traction of the talk show. As I hit I-96,I
realized that my entire pre-taping
thought process had been incorrect. Fo-
cusing on the talk show itself provided
noanswers. Fornot the genre, notguests
or the host, but rather the on-camera
audience is what keeps the 13th genera-
tion in the throngs of Sally Jesse Land.
By seeing what slight degree of
thinking theproducers ofMontel wanted
us as a small, live audience to do, I was
able to grasp what had only been a
fleeting fancy when I watched from my
couch - to a greater extent than other
television genres, the talk show takes
away the at-home-viewers' need to think
and question.
More complete than its predecessor
the laughtrack, the warm-bodied TV
audience that the talk show provides
does the thinking for them (and I leave
itto you to read acertain degreeof irony
into the fact that all audience reaction
occurs only with permission and even
So in my exploration I have discov-
ered my own'pearl. We are the Talk
Show Generation, and for all that this
says about us we are not likely to stand
up and scrape off the MTV or Genera-
tion X misnomers. The talk show incli-
nation in us all is too content to sit back
and clap on command.




Montel Williams, a former naval intelligence officer (!), now hosts a show.

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