Chicago: A city that talks

Chicago's skyline is reflected in the "Cloud Gate" sculpture at Millennium Park in Chicago.

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The final season of Oprah Winfrey's TV
talk show premiered this week. Once it ends, the show will leave a huge gap in the local economy of Chicago -- a place that's been home to many popular talk shows.

Chicago Public Radio's Tony Arnold reports.


TONY ARNOLD: If there are ever plans for a TV talk show hall of fame, Chicago would be the perfect location. For decades, the Windy City has been home to a variety of personalities who brought their own twist to the gab-fest format. Of course, there's Oprah with her emotional and more personal take...

OPRAH WINFREY: Well, we're going to talk to Elliot's mom and dad when we come back.

But there's also been Jerry Springer, who went for more of the, um, absurd.

JERRY SPRINGER: Would you sleep with your mother?

GUEST: I don't know. It depends!

Robert Feder is a media reporter and blogger. He says Chicago's talk show history goes back to the 1940s.

ROBERT FEDER: There was something called The Chicago School of Television, which referred to a low-budget, very personal, one-on-one style of making television.

Dave Garroway, the first host of the "The Today Show" got his start here. Studs Terkel used a Chicago diner as the setting for his talk show.

STUD TERKEL MUSIC: This is Studs' Place. Any minute, there will be a story happening here.

Chicago historian Tim Samuelson says that think-on-your-feet style led to Phil Donahue, who acted more as a newsman in front of a live audience -- and dominated the ratings until Oprah came along.

TIM SAMUELSON: This was very much in the Chicago television tradition.

Chicago talk peaked in the 90s when Oprah and Springer fought for viewers along with Jenny Jones, whose show included themes like, "Too Buff To Date." But one by one, Chicago's talk show landscape has become a ghost town. Oprah ends her show in May. And Jerry Springer recently moved his show to Connecticut.

Media reporter Robert Feder.

ROBERT FEDER: The fact is that the city and the state of Illinois have not stepped up to the extent that other places have in providing the kind of financial incentives and tax breaks that have enticed much of the production elsewhere.

Feder says Chicago should fear not, though. He says some other syndicated talk shows are in the works to be filmed in the city, including one from Howard Stern called, "Bubba the Love Sponge."

In Chicago, I'm Tony Arnold for Marketplace.

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