Tips for Crafting a Late-Night Style Talk Show for Your Business

Courtney Lefferts

Product Marketing

After releasing One, Ten, One Hundred, we knew we wanted to go all-in on creating binge-worthy content. But, we also knew that creating more shows required … well, good concepts, which isn’t exactly an easy task to take on. To come up with a compelling concept, we did some serious thinking and filled up multiple whiteboards full of ideas that ultimately led us to the concept of our newest show, Brandwagon, the talk show for marketers.

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Haven’t watched Brandwagon yet? Hop on over to our Channel and catch up on what you missed so far!

We had a vision, but what would it actually take to pull off an entertaining talk show about marketing? We needed some serious inspiration, so we decided to look to one of the most iconic late-night talk shows around: Jimmy Kimmel Live.

As we started doing research, we quickly found it was super challenging to find resources that actually teach what goes into talk show production, especially when it comes to creating binge-worthy video content for B2B businesses like ours. We ultimately did find some good nuggets of information to get us off on the right foot.

Image Credit: Variety

And in typical Wistia fashion, we’re taking everything we learned from researching Kimmel’s show and distilling it down to share with you! Ready for it? Let’s get these talk show takeaways on the road (say that three times fast).

How to run your talk show like a pro

You might think that to sustain a 17-season show you need a bunch of bells and whistles and even a dash of movie-magic. But, we actually discovered that Jimmy Kimmel relies on a relatively simple (we didn’t say easy!) process for crafting the entire show.

To illustrate you just how simple it can be, we deconstructed an episode of Kimmel’s show featuring Gwen Stafani, Tracy Morgan, and Patrick Mahomes. You can watch on Hulu, but if you don’t have a subscription, don’t worry — you don’t need to actually see the episode to learn some key takeaways from it. We’ll lay it all out in this post!

1. Start by introducing your guests

It’s easy to gloss over the significance of Jimmy Kimmel Live’s introduction since it’s only 15 seconds long, but it’s one of the most important parts of the show. On each episode, Kimmel gives a brief introduction of the guests who’ll be on that day, giving the audience an idea of what they’re going to experience. Plus, it helps build anticipation for the rest of the episode.

Before interviewing your first guest, introduce everyone who will be on the show. All you have to do is say their name, role, and company, but this small bit of information will help increase the chances that your audience will finish the episode and watch the next one.

2. Tell an industry news story

This is a staple on almost every late-night talk show. Hosts typically feature a short stand-up routine that includes commentary and jokes about timely, culturally relevant topics. On Jimmy Kimmel Live, he uses this tactic to not only warm up his audience but also to provide fodder for later conversations with guests. Now, stand-up isn’t for every business — and that’s totally okay! But, if you decide not to kick off your talk show with a stand-up routine, consider discussing the latest, most relevant trends in your industry before your first guest joins you.

Image Credit: The New York Times

When crafting your own news story, consider exploring the few topics that you can actually weave into a narrative. To do that, pinpoint the most interesting trends in your industry, read articles and watch videos about the trends (make sure they all have different angles and perspectives), and jot down the most compelling insights you can pull from the content you consumed. Then, structure your insights into a compelling story.

“When crafting your own industry news story, consider exploring the few topics that you can actually weave into a narrative.”

3. Plan out your entire show

Talk shows often feel like an organic interaction between two talented conversationalists, but, in reality, most hosts plan out all of their show’s talking points the day before it airs. Let’s break down how it might work on a show like Jimmy Kimmel Live:

  • To start the outlining process, one of Kimmel’s producers calls the guest a few days before the show, talks to them about any stories or current events they’d like to share, and records the conversation.
  • Then, Kimmel and his producers go over the call, decide which stories they want to cover, and structure the conversation in the most engaging way possible.
  • Right before the guest sits down with Kimmel, his producer preps them with the stories that Kimmel wants to tell during the show.

On the Jimmy Kimmel Live episode we referenced before, once Tracy Morgan introduces his Uncle Moe (who was backstage), Kimmel mentions that one of Morgan’s uncles had been in jail for 38 years. This leads the two into a conversation that both Morgan and Kimmel can riff off for a while. And while at first blush, you might think Morgan’s answers to Kimmel’s questions are completely natural, the truth is — Kimmel knew Morgan’s answers before he even asked a single question. In other words, they made their way down this laugh-out-loud path together.

To apply this strategy to your business, keep these tips in mind:

  • Research your guests: Before you start writing questions for your guests, ask them to join you on a call to discuss their background and some recent stories of their lives, careers, or companies. Then, decide which stories you want to include in your show.
  • Don’t be afraid to lurk: If your guests don’t have time to talk to you before the show, pore over their website, LinkedIn, company website, articles that have featured them, and more to find the most interesting and entertaining stories. Then, come up with questions that will lead to the telling of those stories.
  • Share the topics before the shoot: Whether you gather information about your guests over the phone or from the Internet, a crucial next step is sending them the topics and stories you plan to cover during the show. That way, your guests won’t be blindsided by any of your questions and can prepare their answers, which can take your show from entertaining to memorable.

4. Add variety to your show with sketches

Something else you may have noticed is that Kimmel doesn’t only rely on news and jokes to keep his shows fresh and entertaining. He also regularly spices things up with star-studded, narrative-driven sketches and other famous bits, like “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” and “I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy.”

To diversify the content on your talk show, consider inserting a funny or interesting sketch into each episode. For example, instead of sitting Gwen Stefani down for an interview, Kimmel features her in a narrative-driven sketch about auditioning a very peculiar dancer for her Las Vegas tour — Guillermo, Kimmel’s trusty sidekick.

If you need help writing a short, narrative-driven sketch for your talk show, check out our guide for crafting stories based off of Hollywood’s proven story structure.

5. Reference topics you covered earlier

When you need to spark a conversation with your guests or run out of questions to ask, think back to the topics you covered during your industry news segment and ask related questions.

For instance, whenever Kimmel needs to spark or keep his conversation flowing with comedian Tracy Morgan and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, he brings up a topic that he covered during his stand-up routine. His audience is already familiar with these topics, so doing this keeps his conversation more focused. Kimmel has also established a narrative around these topics, and Morgan and Mahomes can contribute to them, so together they can dive even deeper into them.

6. Let charismatic guests do most of the talking

Although the host is the focus of a talk show, the main reason why your audience tunes in is to get to know your special guests on a more personal level. So guide the conversation, don’t dominate it — especially when your guest is particularly interesting or funny.

For example, when Jimmy Kimmel talks to Tracy Morgan he mostly asks Morgan leading questions that result in priceless stories. Kimmel will only sprinkle his witty humor into the conversation to tease out more of a story or invigorate a flat joke. His conversation with Morgan is also longer than any other segment of the episode because Morgan is a world-class comedian, and Kimmel trusts his ability to entertain.

As the host of your talk show, however, you must drive the conversation in the direction you want it to go, even if your guest is the most entertaining or interesting person you’ve ever met. In other words, you own the interview. To keep the steering wheel in your hands, consider writing an outline that can guide you through each of your show’s talking points and set a time limit for each segment. If your guest veers off track or talks for too long, pull them back in or move on to the next topic.

“You must drive the conversation in the direction you want it to go, even if your guest is the most entertaining or interesting person you’ve ever met.”

7. Command the conversation with guests that are a little less talkative

If one of your guests is not very talkative or less insightful than you’d hoped they would be, it’s better to engage them in a short and sweet conversation rather than draw one out.

One of the guests, Patrick Mahomes, that’s featured on the episode we referenced earlier, is a charismatic guy and a great athlete. Stack him up next to Tracy Morgan, however, and his ability to entertain pales in comparison. Kimmel knows this, so he peppers Mahomes with more questions and significantly cuts his air time.

That said, while interviewing a less talkative guest, don’t feel pressured to fill in any prolonged pauses or moments of silence with mindless chatter. Sometimes, your guest just needs some time to think. Additionally, if your show isn’t live and you can edit it afterward, let your guest know this so they can take as much time as needed to provide an articulate answer to your question or even take another stab at it.

8. Promote your guests and their latest projects

Your guests are truly the stars of the show, so make it a point to either hype their latest or upcoming project yourself or give them the chance to speak to it themselves. At the beginning and end of each conversation with his guests, Kimmel does just that. This serves as a small token of appreciation to guests for joining him on his show, and at the end of the day, Kimmel knows that the show without guests is … well, nothing.

Image Credit: YouTube

Adopt the same mentality as Kimmel on your talk show. Tell your guests you’re happy to promote their latest project during the show and ask them what they’d like you to say to the audience. Simply put: It’s the nice (and right) thing to do.

Channel your inner Jimmy Kimmel

At Wistia, we’re going all-in on investing in creativity, storytelling, and audience-building, and we think other businesses should too. We believe that creating binge-worthy content is the best way to connect with and build an audience for your brand, and a talk show-style series is a great place to start.

Anytime you need a little talk show inspiration, feel free to reference this blog post, or our very own talk show, Brandwagon. Are you having trouble coming up with concepts for shows for your business? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll try to get you un-stuck!

Courtney Lefferts

Product Marketing

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