One of the most frequent questions we receive in our About Talk Shows email queue is "How do I get on a talk show?" Usually it's a specific talk show - Ellen or Letterman or Dr. Oz. It's preceded only by "How do I get tickets to my favorite talk show?"
While getting tickets to a see a talk show is relatively easy - they're free and, for less popular shows, abundant and you can request them online - getting to guest on a talk show is infinitely more difficult. If you don't have a new movie coming out, aren't a best selling author or hit rock band, or haven't made the news by landing a plane safely in the Hudson River or winning more Olympic gold medals than anyone in history, you're going to have a whole lot of trouble.
Even still - however infinitesimal - there's still a possibility. Here's how to try.
If you have a new book to hawk or inspiring story to tell, one that you think the world would want to hear, you will just bang your head against the wall if you try to land on The View. The show will look for proof that people are really talking about you (or your story or your product or your idea). So you have to build that groundswell before you hit the big time. Do that by pitching your idea locally. Many local TV stations broadcast homegrown talk shows. WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio, for example, broadcasts Good Company every weekday morning. Getting on TV locally - and then showing the national shows how your story would be told - increases your chances for attracting producers.
Stop Thinking About Yourself …
TV talk show producers are super sensitive to self-promotion. And they are ridiculously protective of their audience. Every producer is searching for stories that their audience can relate to - stories that audience members will say, "Hey, it's like they're talking about me." That, or acts that will entertain the audience and keep people coming back for more. After all, if the audience stops watching, the show gets cancelled. If your story is all about you and not at all about the audience, then there's no way you're getting on the tube.
… And Start Thinking About the Audience
So make your story about the audience. How do you do that? Start by figuring out how your story relates to the viewer. If you own a bike shop, you can talk about do-it-yourself bike repairs. If you are a self-made millionaire, tell the audience how they can become millionaire's, too. Remember, the customer is always right. And in this case your customer is the talk show - and its customer is the audience. Give them what they want.
Be Really, Really Patient
"What a lot of people might not realize is that being a guest on a talk show - at least when you're not an A-list celebrity - is a challenge. It's very competitive," says Rick Smith Jr., a Cleveland-based magician who holds the Guinness Book of World Record for Farthest Thrown Playing Card - over 200 feet.
The long and winding road to five minutes with Leno or Letterman can begin years in advance with a call to show producers. Or even a call from show producers, as with Smith. Smith has been "on call" many times, eventually to either be bumped or told to hold on for "next time" because another act or idea or story trumps his.
If you're far enough along that national talk shows are interested in your story, start forging relationships with show producers. Smith says he keeps on top of them, making sure they know he's ready and available to go on the show.
"This is how things work, generically," he says. "A producer will give you a call and ask you to send him a tape of your stuff."
In most cases, though, that tape will lead to a series of interviews and calls with producers who want to get a sense of who you are and what you're all about. If your act and personality fits the show they'll put you "on call."
"And you could be on call for two days or three years," Smith says. "Basically, when you're on call, you're just waiting for that moment when the producers give you a ring and ask you to be on. And in the fast pace world of talk shows, that could be that day."