What makes a TV personality?
There are plenty of people famous for rather dubious talents on television, with “nice guy” perhaps the most dubious.
With the recent news that Stephen Colbert will be taking over when David Letterman retires next year, we’ve been thinking a lot about the backgrounds of TV celebrities. Although he started his career as a newscaster, Letterman caught the attention of the studios through his stand-up comedy. His successor Colbert also has a background in comedy, having got his big break with Chicago improve troop The Second City.
While most late night hosts share similar backgrounds, there are plenty of daytime hosts with more dubious histories. Some of them are journalists, certainly, but many blur the line between “famous on television” and simply being (thanks to reality TV) “famous for being on television.” Celebrity rosters filled with “reality stars” is kind of a recent phenomenon, but television (and radio before that) has always given us celebrities we didn’t quite know how to categorize – we called them “personalities.”
TV personalities sometimes hosted or presented shows, such as Bob Barker, Chuck Woolery or Dick Clark. But many were famous simply for being charming, witty and good sports, like Ed McMahon or Shadoe Stevens (from the center square).
Art Linkletter is one TV personality who parlayed his good-naturedness into an interesting career. He started rather straight-forwardly in radio (KGB in San Diego) doing some acting but mostly presenting programs. His most well-known programs – Kids Say the Darndest Things and People are Funny – started on radio and continued on television, even expanding into books and comics. Known for his approachable demeanor and his witty repartee, Linkletter made his personality a household name, even licensing his name and likeness to Milton Bradley to endorse their ‘Game of Life’. (Does your version in the family game closet have his picture on the money? Ours does.)
Since it’s being reported that Stephen Colbert will leave his larger than life fictional persona behind when he moves to network television, it’s hard to know what to expect from him as a real-world host. Perhaps he too will make the time-honored transition from comedian to simply, “personality.”