We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Bernard M. Timberg’s book, Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show, can be obtusely pedantic, but it’s also a valuable compendium and examination of the “set of principles that governs all talk on television.” As Timberg notes, “[T]he conversations we see on television are anything but normal.” An easy assessment in today’s post-Springer world, but Timberg charts the history of how we got here, from Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now and Person to Person shows, through the introduction of such stalwarts as The Today Show and The Tonight Show, right up to Bill Maher and the satiric Larry Sanders Show. Inside Timberg’s opus is “A Guide to Television Talk,” by Robert J. Erler, an encyclopedic list broad enough to include not only Washington Week in Review, but also Family Feud and Robin Leach. In various sidebars, Timberg takes us backstage: Stories include Letterman screwing with his director about wanting to watch a Mets playoff (and the director screwing right back, to the point of pissing Dave off), Carson’s censored monologue, and that time when Jack Parr stormed off the set. Most entertainingly, Timberg provides a nearly complete transcript of the infamous Norman Mailer/Gore Vidal catfight on The Dick Cavett Show. In light of the current state of TV talk, such moments from the early days actually prove fairly intellectual. Have a normal conversation when Timberg speaks at 5 p.m., Sunday, April 27, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Dave Nuttycombe)