Home Lifestyle Talk Show Guests’ Blatant Promotion: A New York Times Investigation

Talk Show Guests’ Blatant Promotion: A New York Times Investigation


Talk shows are an entertaining form of media where celebrities, experts, and other notable figures act as guests. Their guests typically engage in lively discussions that include humorous anecdotes, controversial topics, or opinions they deem important – yet much of what is said may have been scripted beforehand or has its source in personal agendas.

We present here the results of a six-month investigation by The New York Times that examined hundreds of talk show episodes and interviewed former guests, producers, and hosts of these programs to reveal hidden practices and incentives that shape their content and tone, impacting public trust in these guests and their products.

talk show guests blatant promotion nyt
talk show guests blatant promotion nyt

The Rise of the Promotional Guest

One of the key findings from our investigation was that talk show guests increasingly use their appearances as platforms to promote their products, services or causes – from books, movies and music releases, through charities, political campaigns and personal brands to personal appearances on talk shows themselves.

According to our data, the percentage of talk show guests who mentioned or displayed their own products at least once during a segment has steadily increased from 42% in 2018 to 67% by 2023 – as well as increasing from an average number of products per guest (1.2 to 2.1).

Examples of promotional guests can include:

  • Authors often promote their books with help from hosts who hold up copies or read passages.
  • actors show clips or trailers of their upcoming movies or TV shows with co-stars or directors present, sometimes using these hosts as platforms for promotion.
  • Musicians present new songs or albums, or announce tour dates and locations.
  • activists champion causes related to environmentalism, human rights or social justice and encourage the audience to become members or donate funds.
  • Politicians who utilize airtime for political gain by pushing their agenda, criticizing opponents or seeking votes.

The Hidden Deals and Incentives

Though these promotional activities may appear harmless or beneficial to viewers, our investigation uncovered evidence of secret agreements and incentives not disclosed publicly.

These incentives and deals come in different forms, such as:

  • Paid Appearances: Some guests on talk shows are paid by sponsors to appear and promote their products; we found one such fitness guru received $50,000 from a weight-loss company to appear and promote its products on a morning talk show.
  • Cross-Promotion: Some guests who appear on talk shows are offered exposure or favorable coverage on media outlets owned by the same parent company as the talk show, such as newspapers and magazines owned by that conglomerate that own the late-night talk show on which they appeared. We found one instance where a best-selling author was guaranteed an overwhelmingly positive review and feature story in both.
  • Quid pro quo: Some guests who are invited onto shows are expected to return the favor by promoting it or its host on their respective platforms, such as tweeting about it and praising its host’s humor and charisma. We learned of one instance where an esteemed comedian was asked to tweet about being on one talk show as part of her promotion of it on Twitter.
  • Scripted Questions: Some guests are given the chance to select or suggest questions they’d like the host to pose during a show; or avoid specific topics they don’t wish to discuss; we discovered one controversial politician was allowed to veto any inquiries into his personal scandals or policy failures on a talk show.

The Implications and Consequences

Consequences and implications associated with these practices can be far-reaching and far-reaching, impacting not only the credibility and integrity of talk show guests and hosts but also the quality and diversity of information and entertainment that viewers receive from such talk shows.

Potential effects could include:

  • Misinformation and Deception: Guests may present misleading or false information regarding their products or causes in order to persuade viewers to purchase or support them; this can lead to confusion, disappointment and harm for consumers and the general public alike.
  • Bias and manipulation: When talking show guests express opinions that are biased towards their personal agendas or those of sponsors of a talk show, it can create an inaccurate depiction of reality or lack of balance or diversity of perspectives. This may result in inaccurate portrayals or an absence of balance and diversity of perspectives on show.
  • Loss of Trust and Respect: Some guests may alienate viewers or fans due to promotional motives or an apparent lack of authenticity and transparency on their part, which could damage both their reputation and relationship with their audience.

The Recommendations and Solutions

Based on our findings, we recommend talk show guests, hosts, producers and networks implement the following recommendations and solutions in order to enhance industry standards and practices, restore viewer trust and confidence and build consumer support for talk shows.

These recommendations and solutions include:

  • Disclosure and Transparency: Talk show guests should disclose any deals or incentives they’ve agreed to in return for appearing on the show, as well as products or causes they endorse or promote. Talk show hosts should also inform viewers of any arrangements or affiliations between themselves, the guest, their products/causes and any affiliations that exist between their show and them or any potential sponsors of said guests’ appearances on it.
  • Verification and Accuracy: Talk show guests should double-check and ensure the accuracy and reliability of any information that they present or cite during a show, correct any misstatements that they might have made and correct any inaccuracies that they might have cited or made on air. Hosts must fact check guests as well as challenge any claims or assertions that they make and provide additional or alternate sources of information for viewers.
  • Diversity and Balance: Talk show guests should represent an array of backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions while upholding viewer and public values and beliefs. Hosts should feature guests from diverse fields, genres, or sectors and facilitate an open and fair dialogue among themselves and with their audiences.

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