TV review: CBS's 'The Talk' soft-pedals around issues ABC's 'The View' tackles

By Tom Shales
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Television's obsessive segregation of the sexes continues this week with the addition of "The Talk" to the CBS daytime schedule. A clumsily obvious rip-off of the Barbara Walters sensation "The View" -- even down to the "The" in the title -- "Talk" brings together a panel of what used to be called career women for discussions likely to involve motherhood but venturing into other areas as well, though indications from Monday's premiere are that really hot topics may be avoided.

Ironic, isn't it, that the area in which "Talk" most clearly departs from "View" is the one that's most worth copying: "The View's" fearless tackling of current controversies and political outrages. "Talk's" talkers -- a slapdash collection of mostly actresses -- on Monday stuck mainly to Botox, divorce and female body parts.

During an alleged discussion (part of it on tape with actress Marissa Jaret Winokur) of when parents should talk to their kids about sex, Leah Remini burst out laughing at the word "vulva" and balked at a sex therapist's recommendation that such proper clinical terms as "vagina" be used.

But "it's not even a pretty word," Remini complained, adding that when discussing that particular body part with her young daughter, she prefers to substitute "cupcake."

Gee. Why not "Little Debbie"? Or "Twinkie"?

Julie Chen, the capable host of "Big Brother" and all-around network utility person as well as the wife of CBS boss Leslie Moonves ($43.2 million in executive compensation last year -- let's hear 'em discuss an outrage like that), seems to be the host of "The Talk," but CBS insists that all six panelists are co-hosts, with Chen perhaps properly billed as the "moderator" who handles procedural matters such as "Welcome to the show." On the premiere, the "welcome" took up the first 20 minutes; there was no show until then.

During the long prefatory lull, viewers were given the dubious gift of little taped hellos from the offspring of the panelists. "Sorry, my son's only 1," said Chen, explaining why there was no little moon-faced Moonves to wish her good luck. But then big daddy himself appeared on the videotape.

"I love you," he said. "I want you to be great." And, he added, "if it doesn't work, I'll cancel you."

Oh, Les, you funny, funny man.

The apparent main event finally showed up nearly halfway through the show: former supermodel Christie Brinkley, granting "her first interview in years," Chen said. Maybe we missed it, but has there been a great clamor for interviews with Christie? Monday's showed her to be charming and, shall we say, "self-supportive," but not bearing a bounty of food for thought. She started to complain about divorce laws but never got to the point; photographs showed her with ex-husband Billy Joel, but it's her more recent divorce of architect Peter Cook that she was presumably referring to.

During the Brinkley segment, a few of the panelists vanished, banished to the wings. A CBS spokesman said later that this was no mystery; producers just feel that a group of three co-hosts is more manageable than a group of six when it's time to interview a celebrity. Holly Robinson Peete and Sara Gilbert "went missing," as the newscasters say, while Chen, Remini and the insufferable Sharon Osbourne stayed to quiz Brinkley.

Osbourne is up to old tricks and bad habits, mainly her rude insistence on interrupting others so she can utter a few more of her own ill-chosen words. She promotes a stereotype all by herself: the shrew who won't shut up.

Gilbert is one of the show's executive producers and talked on the premiere about how she got the idea -- and, no, it was apparently not from watching Walters and company over on ABC. Fellow e.p. Brad Bossy, one of the few men involved with "Talk" in a major way, said in a promotional interview for the show's Web site that the most important quality associated with the show is "being real," while in a similar interview, Chen advised her colleagues to "keep it real" above all else.

For all that palaver, the premiere seemed about as "real" as Joan Rivers's face. Maybe the panelists will become more "real" and the topics for discussion will be truly heavier as the days and weeks go on. They'd better get heavier, because any lighter and the images will vanish into vapor before they ever make it down the cable and into your house.

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