By the fourth season, a show was dedicated to guests who claimed they had seen Elvis Presley alive in a variety of different locations throughout the country, with one man revealing to the host that he talked to the singer in his local Burger King.

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For an entire hour in the 1980s, members of the studio audience stood up one by one, gave their name and announced that they were gay.

Also in the 1980s, Winfrey took her show to West Virginia to confront a town gripped by AIDS paranoia because a gay man living in the town had HIV.

The genre experienced a particular spike during the 1990s, when a large number of such shows were on the air, but which gradually gave way during the 2000s to a more universally appealing form of talk show.

The Les Crane Show, a network talk show that aired on ABC as part of its late-night schedule from August 1964 to February 1965, was the first talk show to follow the format.

The subgenre achieved peak viewership during the late 20th century.

Airing mostly during the day and distributed mostly through television syndication, tabloid talk shows originated in the 1960s and early 1970s with series hosted by Joe Pyne, Les Crane and Phil Donahue; the format was popularized by personal confession-filled The Oprah Winfrey Show, which debuted nationally in 1986.

Tabloid talk shows have sometimes been described as the "freak shows" of the late 20th century, since most of their guests were outside the mainstream.

The host invites a group of guests to discuss an emotional or provocative topic – ranging from marital infidelity to more outlandish topics – and the guests are encouraged to make public confessions and resolve their problems with on-camera "group therapy". Tabloid talk shows are sometimes described using the pejorative slang term "Trash TV", particularly when producers appear to purposely design their shows to create controversy or confrontation, as in the case of Geraldo (such as when a 1988 show featuring Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi members, anti-racist people and Jewish activists led to an on-camera brawl) and The Jerry Springer Show, which focused on lurid trysts – often between family members.

It is the talk show as a group therapy session." By confessing intimate details about her weight problems, tumultuous love life and sexual abuse, and crying alongside her guests, Time credited Winfrey with creating a new form of media communication known as "rapport talk" as distinguished from the "report talk" of Phil Donahue: Winfrey saw television's power to blend public and private; while it links strangers and conveys information over public airwaves, TV is most often viewed in the privacy of our homes. That is Winfrey's genius, and will be her legacy, as the changes she has wrought in the talk show continue to permeate our culture and shape our lives.