As host of one of a batch of syndicated talk shows getting set to debut this fall, the longtime Survivor host says there’s room for all of them. “The reason is that a talk show lives or dies with its host. Everyone brings their own strengths. I don’t see it as a threat.” And he says his experiences on Survivor will serve him well: “Dealing with people from all walks of life, who are in extreme conflicts, for almost 13 years … will play into the talk show. That’s where I’ve had the opportunity to hone the craft of interviewing.”
If events had unfolded a bit differently, Jeff Probst might have replaced Regis Philbin on Live! After sitting in for Philbin as a guest co-host, he says it’s something that he had thought about, but he didn’t think Philbin would ever retire.
And by the time Philbin did retire, Probst was plotting his own talk show with CBS Television Distribution that he says is closer to his soul.
Just last week, CTD recruited former Oprah supervising producer Amy Coleman to join Probst as co-executive producer on the show, which has been cleared in more than 80% of the country and set to debut this fall.
Jeff Probst will compete for viewers and ad dollars with returning shows and three other newbies: Disney/ABC’s Katie, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution’s Steve Harvey and Twentieth Television’s Ricki.
Jeff Probst recently spoke with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Kevin Downey about the nature of his upcoming show, the competition and using social media to interact with viewers.
An edited transcript:
What’s your vision for the Jeff Probst show?
The umbrella idea is a philosophy that guides me, which is a Joseph Campbell quote: “The adventure you’re ready for is the one you get.” That’s been guiding my life for the past decade.
I think it’s a timely idea. People are looking for change. My feeling is: Well, how about now? Why wait? Let’s get something happening. We want to have a show that inspires people to get off the couch and accomplish what they want to in their lives.
How will you do that?
This isn’t a motivational show, in the sense of “Rah, rah, rah! Come on, you can do it!” But it has elements of Survivor’s tribal council, where you put your finger to someone’s chest and say: “Hold yourself accountable.”
But the end goal of this show is different. It’s a positive end, which is about making your life better and accomplishing the things you want to accomplish.
Will the topics always be upbeat or will you tackle tough issues, too?
When we did the pilot, the shows ranged from a convicted rapist, who was seeking forgiveness so he could move on with his life, to a really fun segment with a mom who hadn’t worn a bikini in 10 years. It was holding her back. That was equally moving, but at the completely other end of the spectrum.
Will that format stick when the show debuts in September?
Any new show has to find its legs. We’re really comfortable — and CBS has been really supportive — with saying that’s what we should do. We’re going to go out there and see what the audience responds to. We’ll adapt and assess and adapt and assess, as necessary.
I want to build the show with the audience. I want us to learn together. If we build the show in the right way, the audience will feel invested in it. If we can get that two-way street working, we’ll get somewhere.
The key for any talk show is the point of view of the host. I’m not a journalist and I’m not a doctor and I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who likes to have conversations about real life and I’m not afraid to share. I have found that if you’re willing to share, the other person tends to open up.
You and Amy Coleman are executive producers on the show. Is the rest of executive team in place?
We’re just getting into that now. But I can tell you that we’re going to put together a team with a nice blend of experience and new, young, enthusiastic talent. I’ve been rewarded many times on Survivor when I had faith in somebody who I moved into a position that, if you read their resume, they weren’t ready for. But, in talking to them for 10 minutes, you know they’re ready to amaze you.
We’re going to strive to always keep our show fresh — the ideas are fresh, the points of view are fresh. We’re not going to be locked into any point of view where, “This is always how we do it.”
How have your past experiences, like co-hosting Live, influenced this show?
One of the things I enjoyed about filling in for Regis was the first 15 minutes, where you just talk about your life. It’s a very freeing environment. We’re going to have a bit of that feel, meaning the freedom to share your own life. If a celebrity comes on, we won’t know what we’re talking about until we start sharing.
I just got married. I’ve been a dad for a while to two incredible kids. That informs my life in a whole new way. I want to share that when it’s appropriate.
Did you ever speak with Disney about becoming the permanent co-host on Live?
There were times over the years that, if Regis ever retired, I thought I’d love to work with Kelly Ripa. As popular as she is, she is underrated. You can tell any story you want and Kelly will top it with a great joke.
It was such a fun environment because, no matter where I meandered, Kelly would not only be there, she’d be two steps ahead. So, I definitely thought about it. But I never thought Regis would retire. I’m still not convinced he should have. I really miss him.
But, after a few years of talking about doing my own show, I thought there was a slightly different show that was closer to my soul, that I could really throw myself into. That’s when I went to [CBS CEO] Les Moonves and said, “What do you think about this show?” He said, “Yeah, you’re doing it.”
The Jeff Probst show is one of four big-name daytime talk shows debuting in the fall. How does that affect the show as you are creating it?
It doesn’t factor in, at all. The reason is that a talk show lives or dies with its host. We’re all very different — Anderson, Ricki, Katie, Steve. Everyone brings their own strengths. I don’t see it as a threat. We can all be successful.
Most TV stations are likely to air your show in the afternoon. How does that affect the content of the show?
One of the really exciting things about doing a talk show these days is that, the way we’re living our lives, we are busier than we were a decade ago. We’re also watching television in different ways, whether we’re also taking care of kids or Facebooking.
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re on in the morning or the afternoon. What matters is: Are you telling a story that engages the audience? If you are, they will be engaged. If you are not, they won’t be engaged. It’s not any more complicated than that. It’s just hard to execute that.
NBC airs Warner Bros.’ Ellen on most of its stations and will have NBCU’s Steve Harvey on in the afternoons. Is your show compatible with those shows?
I’m excited to see how a lineup like that that works, but I haven’t really thought about it.
Many TV stations are looking for shows that can attract an audience that will stick around for the news. Do you see Jeff Probst as a news lead-in?
The people who run these stations are smart and know what they’re doing. They looked across the field of shows and decided which ones they wanted to buy. So, they have a good idea of what they are getting. That’s why you do a pilot, so they can decide if it’s right for them.
You are committed to doing at least another year of Survivor. How are you going to juggle doing that show and hosting a daily talk show?
This year, we’re going to do Survivor a little earlier than normal so we can get back and prep for the talk show. After the first year, if Survivor is renewed and the talk show is still going, the talk show schedule will be perfect.
The talk show will be on hiatus during the summer, which is when we shoot Survivor. It’ll be a busy year, but it seems doable to me.
Will you tap into Survivor on your talk show?
I would only do that if it was a perfect fit. I don’t see a natural marriage between the talk show and Survivor.
I think the more relevant experience is dealing with people from all walks of life, who are in extreme conflicts, for almost 13 years. That will play into the talk show. That’s where I’ve had the opportunity to hone the craft of interviewing.
Last month, when you got married, your Twitter followers were worried because you weren’t tweeting. Any plans to work social media into your show?
I don’t have millions and millions of followers. But I do have a devoted group of followers. What I’m learning is that there is a conversation to be had.
Each week on Survivor, I tweet live and share behind-the-scenes insight. The show’s fans share with me how they’re watching the show and they share what they liked or didn’t like. So, it’s instant feedback.
I think there will be a way to utilize that to make the show better and to get the audience more involved.