First, a talk show producer works with time limitations as opposed to space limitations. A talk show may consist of as much as an hour of airtime or as little as a five second sound bite. Another difference is that although a talk show producer starts with written stories and pictures much like a newspaper editor, he or she must also work with the added dimensions of voices, personalities, and in the case of television, cameras and three dimensional, moving graphics. The final difference, and it can be a big one, is that a talk show producer’s work is often broadcast before a live audience. Producers don’t have the luxury of editing their words and fixing mistakes. It’s all there in living color!
All these ingredients make for a fast paced and stimulating work environment that is ideal for writers who have lots of creative ideas, can think fast on their feet, and can make sound decisions about what’s news and what’s not. Good taste in developing stories that are appropriate for the general public’s viewing is another increasingly appreciated skill for talk show producers.
As you might expect, writing for a talk show can be quite different from writing for other formats. The copy must be concise, lively, and easily communicated verbally. Scripts must be tight and writers must consistently meet the challenge of effectively condensing major newsworthy events into 10 to 20 second stories.
Depending on the format of a show, a producer may be responsible for writing stories and putting together shows about the day’s news, special edition news digests, documentaries about topics of interest to broad viewing audiences, promotional spots, and/or interviews with celebrities and other news makers.
In addition to producing television and radio talk shows, talented writers may find opportunity in the growing audio book publishing industry. Here a producer must condense popular fiction or nonfiction books by about 60 percent so that the book can be read within the two or three hour time frame that is standard for such products. The trick is that this must be achieved without sacrificing any of the most important aspects of the book the characters, plot, setting or the natural voice of the original book. It requires a process that goes a lot like this: Read the book, reread the book, write, cut, rewrite, cut, reread, cut some more, and so on.
Writers who want to produce television or radio talk shows or audio books would be well served by good training in a field such as broadcast journalism or communications. A college degree and experience at any level are helpful keys for getting started. More opportunities are to be found at smaller stations in smaller cities. Assignments for shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Good Morning America go to producers and writers who have proven themselves in smaller arenas and gained the skills and professional savvy necessary for making it in the big time.