Talk shows often receive a bad reputation—and in light of Jerry Springer and his ilk, they may deserve it. But talk shows also serve positive functions as well as negative, and while it can be hard to spot the benefits during their worst moments, they deserve credit for the good they sometimes do.
Talk shows are an excellent format for discussing topics that viewers might not otherwise be exposed to. For example, zoologist Joan Embry's appearances on The Tonight Show often served to educate people about biology and conversation.
The popularity of talk shows allows them to deliver messages to millions of households. While critics blanch at such influence, it has the ability to galvanize people towards positive ends.
Sometimes, events that take place on talk shows reverberate outwards towards the larger culture. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, used The Tonight Show to announce his candidacy for governor, and Jon Stewart's 2004 appearance on Crossfire sparked a national debate on media responsibility.
While political discussions on talk shows can often descend into partisan brawling, talk shows representing a more responsible mindset can debate issues in an enlightening and informative manner.
Above all, talk shows posses the ability to amuse and entertain viewers in a wide variety of ways. Their format allows them to shift gears and present unique or unusual forms of entertainment in ways other shows cannot.