From "classy" shows like Oprah to "trashy" shows like Jerry Springer, the key to a talk show's success is what Laura Grindstaff calls the money shot-moments when guests lose control and express joy, sorrow, rage, or remorse on camera. In this probing work, Grindstaff takes us behind the scenes of daytime television talk shows, a genre focused ostensibly on "real" stories told by "ordinary" people. Drawing on extensive interviews with producers and guests, her own attendance at dozens of live tapings across the country, and more than a year's experience working on two nationally televised shows, Grindstaff examines how and why producers get the money shot: how they elicit tears, shouting matches, and fistfights from their guests; why the guests agree to participate; and the supporting roles played by studio audiences and experts.
Tracing the arc of the money shot, Grindstaff illustrates the process by which producers make stars and experts out of ordinary people, reproducing old forms of cultural hierarchy and class inequality even while seeming to challenge them. She argues that daytime talk shows give a voice to people normally excluded from the media spotlight, but only allow them to speak in certain ways and under certain rules and conditions. Working to understand the genre from the inside rather than pass judgment on it from the outside, Grindstaff asks not just what talk shows can tell us about mass media, but also what they reveal about American society and culture more generally.
An assistant sociology professor at the University of California at Davis, Grindstaff draws on the language of pornography in analyzing the sometimes steamy and mostly conflict-driven realm of TV talk shows. In porn films, "the money shot" is the moment of male orgasm, and Grindstaff successfully argues that shows like Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake can only be pulled off if they have an emotionally raw "money shot" moment in which guests weep, throw chairs or fling themselves at another guest. "Like pornography," she writes, "daytime talk is a narrative of explicit revelation in which people `get down and dirty' and `bare it all' for the pleasure, fascination, or repulsion of viewers." Although similar insights have been expressed by other cultural critics, who've gone into some detail about the effects of these programs on media and society, Grindstaff veers in a refreshingly different academic direction. Approaching the subject from the inside, by interviewing producers, assistants and guests, as well as describing her own yearlong internship at two unnamed talk shows, the author provides a behind-the-camera perspective that differentiates her material from other sociology books on the topic. Her preference for academic language occasionally makes for dry reading, but it also keeps the book from being a titillating expos akin to the very shows she's describing. On the whole, she lets her natural curiosity come through as she delves into the motivation of the guests, the frustration of the producers and the sheer inanity of cobbling together a show in which bouncers are forced to separate a wife from her husband's mistress. (July 15) Forecast: The lurid, attention-grabbing title should at least get readers to pause in front of this book. It will be a good addition to media studies collections and should do well within educated trade audiences, in addition to the academic market. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.