The Invention of the TV Talk Show in 1721

talk show
Here’s a book where a character complains about how he’s always being cheated of the opportunity to use his most witty remarks and best conversational gambits. His friend comes up with a brilliant idea:

“We must collaborate and be witty in partnership; we must join forces. Every day we shall tell each other what we are going to talk about. We shall give each other assistance, so that if someone comes and interrupts our ideas we’ll bring the subject back ourselves; and if it won’t come easily we’ll drag it in willy-nilly. We will agree about where to show approval, where to smile, and where to laugh out loud. You’ll see, we shall set the tone for every conversation, and people will admire our sharp wit and sparkling repartee. We shall provide mutual protection for ourselves by nodding or shaking our heads to each other…. I shall recite some verses of mine and you will say ‘I was there when he did them. It was at a supper-party, and he didn’t have to think for a moment.’ Often we shall scoff at each other, you and I, and they will say. ‘Watch them attacking and defending themselves!’…but they won’t say that we had a preliminary bout the night before. We shall have to get some of those books which are collections of jokes and epigrams intended for people who are not witty and want to make out that they are… I want us to be able to hold a conversation an hour long with clever remarks all the way through.”

In other words, this is the complete plan for a late-night TV talk show, in the tradition of Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, et al. I don’t hesitate to quote at length from the source, because it’s long out of copyright, having been published in 1721, in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters. This is what they had back then instead of National Lampoon, Mad, or The Onion. The incredibly prescient Montesquieu was such an advanced thinker, the Catholic church even banned some of his books. One of his novel ideas was, unfortunately, never picked up by Carson in regard to Ed McMahon. “One day it will be your turn to shine, the next you will be my assistant.” This one didn’t fly.

photo courtesy of Dplanet:: , used under this Creative Commons license

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About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website VirtualVenice.info and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for Earthblog.net
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