Thursday, 5 January 2012

Who Does What? : The Host

No, I'm not talking about someone who is carrying a sinister alien parasite that will one day burst out to rule the world. I'm talking about people who host TV shows. They come in many varieties to cover the varieties of TV shows that need hosts. Today I'm going to do one of my glib and superficial overviews of hosts, what they do, and how they do it.

VARIETY/EVENT HOST- The job of this form of host is to essentially act as the master of ceremonies for any broadcast that features three or more performers, either in direct competition against each other, or as just pieces of a whole bundle of different acts.

It is not the job of this kind of host to be the star of the event. That role is to be taken by the acts they introduce. A good variety host knows that, and when they step on stage they need to perform these tasks:

1. Restate the identity of the last performer for the viewers that missed the introduction.

2. Take care of any important business, like giving viewers the numbers they need to vote for that supporter, plugging where they will be performing next, or consoling and/or congratulating the performer and/or contestant.

3. Usher that performer off the stage, and bring the next on in.

4. Do these tasks within the time prescribed by the event's director so that everything can move smoothly between commercial breaks and the audience never learns what a dog's breakfast of chaos the backstage work really is.

As you can see, it's not an easy job, and surprisingly few people can actually do it well, usually sunk by a desire to be the center of an attention that really shouldn't belong to them.

LATE NIGHT HOST-  The job of the late night host is different. This sort of host has more of a starring role in the show, but like the variety/event host, has to step back to let others have their moment, because that's what good hosts do.

The tasks of the good late night host are:

1. Do an opening monologue or comedy routine that is topical and funny, reflecting the opinions and/or concerns of their audience.

2. Smoothly introduce the guests in a manner that makes the guest look good.

3.  Conduct a short conversation with the guest that enables said guest to plug whatever they're selling, and hopefully have an amusing story to go along with it.

4.  Most important is that the host really has to listen to their guests in order to draw out the most entertaining elements of the chat for the audience.

And that's one of the reasons I find most of today's big late night hosts to be lacking. Some are only there to mark time and cash paychecks, some feel they're too important for their job and handle it, and their guests with an element of disdain, and only a couple seem remotely interested in trying to be the sort of all round entertainer/gracious host that the job requires.

JOURNALIST HOST- Now this type of host is the kind with more of a background in journalism than show biz. The trademarks of a journalist host is a minimum of "glitz" associated with their show, and longer, more involved interviews with their guests about topics more serious than selling their movie.

A sub-species of this kind of host is the "pseudo-journalist" host. This kind of host puts all the trappings of the "journalist" type interview, including dedicating an entire episode to a particular guest or topic.  However pseudo-journalist hosts tend to stick to the shallow waters, so to speak, and doesn't really burn many calories doing research or digging too deep with their questions.

DAYTIME HOST- Now there are two types of daytime talk show host. There is the "Uplift" host who at least pretends to be unlocking the secrets of losing weight, improving your life, and generally being a better person. Then there is the "Lowbrow" host. This type of host is the kind who goes for the lowest common denominator, dealing in double-dealers, deviants, and deadbeats.

Both types of daytime hosts are obsessed with sensationalizing whatever topic they're discussing in order to win ratings and sell copies of the latest fad diet or lurid expose.

GAME SHOW HOST- The job of the game show host is fairly straight-forward. Introduce the contestants, lay down the rules of the game, and present the questions and/or challenges in a way that keeps the audience interested, and to build suspense when needed. 

PUNDIT/PANEL HOST-  Now you would think that the job of such a host would be to present lively and entertaining debate, but usually it involves agreeing with those they agree with, and shouting down those they don't agree with.

EDUCATIONAL SHOW HOST- These hosts come in two varieties. The "Teacher Host" and the "Student Host." 

The "Teacher" type of host is best for shows aimed at kids. They're job is to present an entertaining, and interesting voice of authority and expertise.

Now if you're trying to sell an educational show to adults that goes beyond a straight documentary, then you might be better served by a "Student Variety" of host. Someone who is not an expert on the subject at hand, but is both interested in it, and willing to learn.

You see adult viewers of such shows would find an expert host condescending, and unwilling to ask the stupid and obvious questions that viewers would like to see answered.  Such a host would have to be able to do their jobs with a certain amount of charm and humor, but without resorting to maudlin sentimentality or clownish mugging.

And that is my glib and superficial explanation of what hosts do.

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