Tweaking the On-Air Talent

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

There may not be a “Talk Show Hosting for Dummies” guide, but Dan Wilch is probably the next best thing.
Mr. Wilch, VP of the entertainment division of the research and consulting firm Frank Magid Associates, has worked with many of the talk show hosts on the air. He is serving as a talent coach for Ali Wentworth and Jack Ford, hosts of King World’s upcoming syndicated talk show “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack.”
Mr. Wilch has worked with the host of every King World talk show to launch in the past decade, including Martin Short, Rolonda and Roseanne. But he is not working with “Living” competitors and freshman talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres or Sharon Osbourne of Telepictures.
“My job is to do everything I can between now and the launch of the show to help Jack and Ali be as comfortable as they can be and to showcase their personalities,” the New York-based consultant said.
When Mr. Ford and Ms. Wentworth were cast in the King World strip, some industry insiders scratched their heads a bit at the choice, since Ms. Wentworth has never hosted a daily talk show and Mr. Ford has a reputation for being a bit dull.
Last week, the co-hosts tested their chemistry and their particular brand of daytime banter during two days of practice host chats in-studio at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York. After Mr. Wilch reviews tapes of their performance, he will give them feedback.
The practice sessions attempted to duplicate the show’s format and were taped to time. For added authenticity, B- and C-list celebrities such as rapper and former “Real World” cast member Heather B., author Wendy Shanker and “It Factor” actor PJ Mahaffey appeared as practice guests. The “studio audience” consisted of an assortment of “Living” staff people.
As Ms. Wentworth and Mr. Ford chatted about the weather and the summer’s big movies, their strengths and weaknesses became apparent. Relying on her improvisational comedy background, former “In Living Color” cast member Ms. Wentworth was quirky and spontaneous. But she got flustered when segueing between segments. And after joking about the etiquette of squeezing through a movie theater aisle, Ms. Wentworth giggled uncontrollably.
She admitted, “I had finished my last host chat bullet point and I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I just started laughing.”
Ford to the Rescue
In contrast, veteran newsman Mr. Ford, whose credits include “Good Morning America,” came off as a bit stiff. His dry delivery of a list of unusual laws from various states fell flat. But when Ms. Wentworth slipped into a laughing jag, he swooped right in and rescued her.
“Jack is a straight shooter who knows his stuff. He’s got years of experience that makes him a really solid interviewer, but if he’s too rigid with that, he’ll seem humorless,” Mr. Wilch said. “Ali has years of improv experience so she’s funny, but she doesn’t have the skills that Jack does, so if she feels uncomfortable, she can go to the goofier side and be off-putting. The idea is to teach them to use the positive sides of their personalities and develop techniques so they can avoid the negatives.”
Mr. Wilch is relatively confident that Ms. Wentworth and Mr. Ford will be ready by Sept. 15, when the show launches. “They’re in pretty good shape. But they still have work to do,” he said. “They’re going to be competing against shows like `The View’ and `Regis and Kelly.’ All of those hosts have a lot more experience on-air.”