What’s Your Favorite Unique Talk Show Interview Format?

Recently I was telling someone about some odd-yet-wonderful talk show formats, one of which is very new. So I thought I’d create a short list of 3 formats I very much enjoy.

Now, I’m not talking about fictional talk shows like Troy & Abed in the Morning or Between Two Ferns. These are real. I’m 100% sure I’m forgetting some really obvious ones (and some from other countries I’m not aware of), so help me out in the comments.

Under a Rock with Tig Notaro

Comedian Tig Notaro kind of knows pop culture, but she doesn’t watch many TV shows or movies. So the entire premise of the show is that she tries to figure out who the guest is.

Think about that for a second. The host of the talk show doesn’t know who the guest is. What proceeds is actually somewhat familiar: Tig asks questions about the guest to try to learn who they are, and the guest shares information about themselves (without revealing their name or the name of content they’re in).

The end of each interview features Tig making a guess as to who the guest is. There have been three episodes so far, and she’s 2 out of 3. Here’s the first episode with James Van Der Beek:

Hot Ones

With over 6 million YouTube subscribers, there’s a decent chance you’ve heard of this show. The host typically interviews one person at a time, and the two of them eat an escalating series of hot wings.

Aside from the questions being really great, it’s fascinating to see how vulnerable people get when they’re (a) getting a little messy and (b) getting increasingly uncomfortable due to the Scoville levels of the hot sauce. For example, how often do you see a guest on a talk show pour milk through their nose during the interview as Aubrey Plaza does in this episode?

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

This is cheating a little bit because it’s no longer on the air and because it’s not super unique. But I think Craig Ferguson is noteworthy because–if my research is correct–he didn’t use cue cards during interviews. Rather, he just had conversations with guests. And not even always good conversations–sometimes they’re a bit forced. But it was a bold move, and when it worked, it felt so much more authentic than other modern talk shows (which I also enjoy, but for different reasons).

Can you think of another unique talk show interview format, whether it’s on TV, on YouTube, or elsewhere? Is there a format you’d like to see?

7 thoughts on “What’s Your Favorite Unique Talk Show Interview Format?”

  1. I like Off The Camera with Sam Jones. It seems much more at ease and like a genuine conversation. I’m sure it’s not a completely behind the scenes look, but it feels closer than regular talk shows. I usually get the sense the Star is not putting on their act during thus interview. Jack Black is a good example…. he is usually very over the top, not here seems like a fairly regular guy.

  2. This isn’t that unique anymore but I appreciate the way Ellen and Jimmy Fallon play games with their guests. You see a different side of people in play mode and it’s nice to mix it up from normal talking heads.

  3. I do have to admit I am rather partial to the Desert Island Discs format – An interview structured around “what ten pieces of music would the guest take with them to a desert island, plus one luxury item. They get a religious or philosophical text (e.g. The Bible) for free”, which is a format that’s been running on BBC Radio 4 for longer than I’ve been alive. (Derivatives such as the board game themed Five Games For Doomsday have a similar appeal, but Desert Island Discs deserves the props as the, to my knowledge, originator of the concept)

    I need to get around to listening to Laura Kate Dale’s new podcast, Tonal Whiplash, the premise being asking the guest alternating serious and silly questions. That sounds like a really interesting way of formatting an interview to me.

  4. Thanks for introducing me to Tig Notaro’s show. That is so great. She is genuinely intrigued, and the guests are genuinely disarmed. Great stuff.


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