They changed everything!
Today we have a variety of Black talk show hosts to choose from. Whether it’s Jennifer Hudson’s new daytime television show, Nick Cannon, Tamron Hall, or even Taraji and Jada’s Facebook Watch series, there is no shortage of Black hosts. Today we have talk shows, short series, podcasts, and the list goes on and on; there’s a little something for everyone. However, it wasn’t always that way, and there were a lot of people who broke down doors for us to enjoy the media onslaught of information we take for granted today. In honor of those pioneers, here are 7 Black talk show hosts who changed TV as we know it.
Oprah Winfrey (1986 – 2011)
The Queen of Daytime Television, Oprah Winfrey got her big break when she was invited to Chicago to host the half-hour AM Chicago show on WLS-TV, the Academy of Achievement reports. The show instantly became a hit with viewers, and the format was expanded into an hour, being rebranded as The Oprah Winfrey Show in September 1985. Just one year later, Winfrey received national syndication, becoming the number-one talk show in the country.
Winfrey covered hard-hitting stories, inspirational narratives, and self-help gurus. It skyrocketed her fanbase; an exclusive 1993 interview with icon Michael Jackson drew more than 100 million viewers, making history as the “most watched interview in television history.” The show became one of the longest-running shows in the history of television, airing for 29 seasons. Winfrey built her media empire in the process and is one of the wealthiest Black women in the world today, and the owner of The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a cable network offering a variety of programming geared towards Winfrey’s original mission of inspiring, informing and entertaining.
Arsenio Hall (1989 – 1994/2013-2014)
Arsenio Hall is a popular comedian and actor who got his big break in 1987 when he took over for Joan Rivers as host on The Late Show, Biography.com reports. His effervescent personality and witty banter would prove a hit with late-night audiences, landing him his own syndicated late-night talk show just two years later. The Arsenio Hall Show was the first late-night talk show to be hosted by a Black person and Hall did not disappoint. He gave a platform to hip-hop artists as well as Black influencers like Louis Farrakhan, becoming a hit with the young, Black, demographic. Hall aired just half an hour before Johnny Carson’s late show The Tonight Show and became famous for its hip atmosphere, rowdy dog barking chants, and star power with guests that included Diana Ross, Bill Clinton, and En Vogue.
Montel Williams (1991 – 2008)
Montel Williams is a Baltimore native and former military veteran, Premiere Speakers Bureau reports. He rose to fame as a television personality, hosting The Montel Williams Show for 18 seasons. The nationally syndicated show on CBS focused on highlighting social issues while also profiling everyday people overcoming extraordinary obstacles. Williams was one of the first Black male talk show hosts to introduce vulnerability to Daytime TV and he won an Emmy Award for his work.
Today, Williams focuses on his Living Well with Montel brand as he chronicles his journey living with Multiple Sclerosis and encourages wellness in all aspects of life.
Queen Latifah (1991 – 2001/ 2013-2015)
Queen Latifah is a Grammy Award-winning rapper, producer, and actress. She won her first Grammy in 1995, going on to build an empire that includes films, TV, and Broadway musicals, Biography.com reports. She first launched her daytime television show, The Queen Latifah Show in 1999, running for just two seasons before its cancellation in 2001. In 2013, she relaunched the show, airing until 2015. Latifah used her platform as an extension of her brand, uplifting women, the culture, and using the show to give away to charitable endeavors. Through her work, she paved the way for more artists to be taken seriously in the talk show arena.
Tavis Smiley (1996-2001/2004-2017)
A Michigan native, Tavis Smiley first rose to prominence during the 90s as the host of BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley, AALBC.com reports. He was one of the first Black political commentators to have his own talk show and addressed a wide variety of world topics with celebrities and entertainment influencers. In the early 2000s, he landed his own show, “The Tavis Smiley Show,” on PBS, which became a staple in the Black community. For his on-air work, Smiley won three NAACP Image Awards and paved the way for Black political commentators who wanted to advocate for Black issues.
Tyra Banks (2005 – 2010)
One of the original supermodels, Tyra Banks began her career when she was still in high school, signing a contract with Elite Model Management, the largest modeling agency in the world, Biography.com reports. She made a name for herself modeling internationally but as she got older and gained more weight, Tyra was vocal about the treatment she experienced as a curvier model. Ultimately, she decided to return to the states and make the shift to lingerie and swimwear modeling, where curvier bodies were more appreciated. She made history multiple times over and became a fierce advocate for women and body positivity. In 2003, she launched the modeling competition America’s Next Top Model. By 2005, she expanded her television brand with her own talk show The Tyra Show.
The show focused on empowering women, with Banks picking up two Daytime Emmys in the process. She changed the game, had everyone crying, and showed the world that models were more than just pretty faces.
Wendy Williams (2008 – 2022)
Wendy Williams is a Jersey native who made a name for herself as a Radio DJ, Biography.com reports. She got started in college, launching her own urban music show on the college radio show at Northeastern University. After graduating in 1986, she cut her chops interning for popular Boston DJ Matt Seigel of Kiss 108. She then bounced around to smaller radio stations in the Virgin Islands and Philly before finally landing back in New York where she had previously been fired. Williams found that while records were fine, she could draw larger ratings by covering her own personal life and the obstacles she faced.
She became one of the first Black women shock-jocks, modeling her radio style after Howard Stern and garnering 12 million listeners in the process. As she grew, her talk radio turned more from her own struggles to those of her listeners and then celebrities. After more than a decade of dominating the radio airwaves, in 2008, she landed her own television show, The Wendy Williams Show.
The show first aired as a trial run on BET before landing on her home network, Fox. Before launching the premiere of the show, Williams was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, beginning her next chapter in daytime TV. She succeeded there as well, bringing her hilarious personality to viewers and mixing in celebrity interviews with audience advice and gossip. Williams earned multiple Emmy nominations for her work and changed the landscape of television forever, ushering in unprecedented cultural impact and influencing a new generation of gossip girls! How you doin’?!
We need these all on Hulu ASAP!
7 Black talk show hosts who changed TV. Photo Courtesy of Arsenio Hall/Facebook