If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, television must be nose-deep in the stuff. Here’s a look at the highest profile distaff chat shows – and how to choose which one to watch. If you’re going to watch one, that is.
Mood: Mildly hysterical. Things kick off with lots of audience enthusiasm. You’d think they were handing out cars or roasted chickens or something.
Set: The ladies squeeze around a table against a blue screen backdrop. This is very no-nonsense. Not a throw pillow in sight. They’re here to talk, dammit!
First topic: Weinergate. Boy, Elizabeth yells a lot. Whoopi is the first to bring up a valid point: given that any idiot out there knows that “secret” e-mails never stay that way, Anthony Weiner might be too stupid to govern. Elizabeth is still yelling, although no one is really arguing with her. She’d better be careful or her face is going to freeze that way. Barbara blames Viagra and Cialis. Really, Barbara? He’s 46, not 70. Sherry wonders if men want their wives to be buck wild. They debate whether fantasy is the same as cheating. Nine minutes are devoted to this topic.
Next: Barbara welcomes Katie Couric to the network. I suspect she isn’t watching, but that’s nice anyway. Sherry talks about Bishop Eddie Long and the molesting charges against him. And she is MAD. She’s the mother of a son! David and Goliath! God stuff! She thinks he’s guilty because he settled out of court. God would have protected him if he wasn’t guilty. Yes, tell that to all the innocent men who’ve served decades on death row before DNA evidence exonerated them. She’s got a good case of crazy eyes going right now. I would not want to cross Sherri. Whoopi tells Sherri she needs to calm the hell down so they can talk about her picking out wedding dresses. Sherri seems to remember where she is and starts talking about pretty dresses. Lots of yelling on this show, I’ve got to say. Elizabeth then talks about online shopping. I think this was necessary, because someone was going to have a brain embolism.
Gift: The audience is getting “True Grit” on DVD. Because when I think “True Grit,” I think “The View.”
Interview: Sarah Ferguson. She has a new series on OWN. She is broken. She hurts. She’s lost who she really is. She wants to be loved! Barbara tells her she’s very lovable. I'm sure that helps. Barbara notes Sarah wasn’t invited to the royal wedding but her daughters went wearing ridiculous hats. Barbara wants to know how it feels to get the finger from the royal couple. Sarah sidesteps the question. Barbara pushes, but Sarah isn’t giving it up. Barbara finally lets her blather on about Thailand and her ex-husband’s military uniform. I have to hand it to Barbara, she knows just how far to push without the talent running off stage in tears.
Musical Act: Ronnie Dunn.
Mood: It’s another screamy audience, though this one seems less densely packed.
Set: The women have a table, bookcases and a loft environment. Oddly enough, this is pretty much what “The View” had back in the old days. They got rid of it for a reason. Instead of feeling cozy, it just feels fake.
First Topic: Julie explains the hosts’ butt touching ritual. I don’t need to know this. But the real first topic is just like “The View”’s: Weinergate. Whereas “The View” showed us one of Weiner’s shirtless photos, “The Talk” shows his news conference. It's classier, I guess, but that shirt photo made the point pretty fast. There’s a lot more backstory, which I guess is helpful if you’ve been in a tornado or lost your Internet connection or something. Sharon doesn’t understand why politicians lie. Julie explains it’s because Weiner lied because he’s married and because he holds a public office. Julie explains this to Sharon as if she’s slow. I think Sharon was looking for a deeper answer, Julie. Or at least I hope so. Sara has to point out that his name is Weiner. It’s the elephant in the room! And every last night comedian has covered this. Sara giggles. She can’t let go of the Weiner thing. So, I’m getting the impression that “The Talk” is for women who like to talk a little dirty as long as it's their third grader's version of dirty.
Sharon mentions that Ozzy used to bring home other women, but he was on drugs, so it was almost okay. Then, we get into a discussion about Sharon bashing Ozzy over the head with a mirror. I think we should just let Sharon tell old stories, because it's more interesting than Weinergate, really. Leah wants to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Leah is the Elizabeth Hasselbeck of the group, but with more jumping around and less righteous indignation. Julie wonders if Weiner is a genius, because we’re all talking about him and he could get his own talk show. Yes, Julie, that’s what every politician wants – a career killing scandal and a CNN talk show that will be quickly canceled. Leah decides “The Talk” needs a scandal and tosses a chair before trying to force Holly’s boob out of her dress. Leah is a trained monkey. Actually, she’s not that well-trained. I wouldn’t hire her for commercial work or anything.
Next: The next topic is a Utah dad who dresses up when he meets his high school kid’s school bus. Oh yeah, I forgot, this show is about moms. Even though every single woman on “The View” is also a mom, that’s “The Talk” hook. Sharon thinks every parent has a right to embarrass their kids. Holly thinks it’s cool. Leah points out her mom in the audience and asks her to drool. Leah dances. If Leah drinks coffee in the morning, she should stop.
The girls natter on about how some Pennsylvania eighth graders go to Hooters (Leah gropes herself and Sara mentions that she wouldn’t know where to look). Weirdly, Julie Chen reveals she’s dreamt she was naked. Everyone has a dream that means something, like overwhelming emotion or fear of being exposed as a fraud. Except Leah, who thinks dreams are BORING. Um, okay. I do agree with her, but it kind of kills the conversation. But Leah is okay if everyone talks about sex dreams. She mentions that she’s reached orgasm in her sleep, although the word she uses gets bleeped. Leah is that friend you have who can be a lot of fun until you take them to a party and they get so drunk they puke on the host’s shoes and leave a puddle of pee in the corner of the living room. Sharon starts talking about her sex dreams about Piers Morgan. Having Leah and Sharon on the show seems like overkill, as Sharon’s quite a party unto herself.
Interview: Howie Mandel. Because he’s OCD, the girls wear hazmat suits. This is actually rather clever. Julie tries to get Howie to talk about Weinergate but he fixates on her use of the word certitude. They actually have someone look it up for him, then give him the wrong definition (it’s not freedom of doubt, it’s freedom from doubt). The women don’t seem to have any idea how to control this interview as Howie bounces off the walls like a kid who needs Ritalin, but then, I don't think anyone could get this guy to focus. I mean, he admits to being a danger behind the wheel because he forgets to put the car in park or turn it off. However, he does tell a good story about pranking Sharon, who has a fear of flying. Sara also gets in an excellent question: Why do two Brits and a Canadian judge “America’s Got Talent.” I wish Sara talked a little more, as long as she talked about things other than wieners.
Musical Act: Though the show’s info listed Pat Benetar, no one shows. Guess Howie’s segment went long.
The Verdict: Since “The View” has been on the air since 1997 (and even newest additions Whoopi and Sherri have been on since 2007), it’s clearly a well-oiled machine. Ironically, that means more conflict rather than less. The women have no qualms about yelling over one another and fighting to get their point across, which seems cacophonous until you watch “The Talk.” Everyone is more polite (to one another, at least), but the result feels less spontaneous. Even though Julie Chen is ostensibly the one holding down the fort, she doesn’t seem entirely able to keep everyone on track, especially wild cards Sharon and Leah. “The Talk” also tries too hard to shoehorn in the mommy angle – did we need to discuss the daddy who wears costumes at the bus stops? – and seems to sidestep actual issues in order to let everyone talk about their sex dreams. That being said, “The Talk” has only been on the air for one season. “The View” has plenty of time to iron out its problems with less competition in the genre. But given that “The Talk”’s ratings are usually far lower than those of “As the World Turns” (the show it replaced), who knows how much time they'll get. Even with Chen married to CBS CEO Les Moonves, she might come to prefer "Big Brother" to making small talk about breastaurants and protecting her chest from Leah Remini.