Talk show confessions -- Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah, and Bill Maher share too much on their shows

By Ken Tucker
October 26, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

A friend says she had the sound turned down when Ellen DeGeneres had her first wrenching TV sob last week. Watching the usually perky host’s face collapse in tears, my friend thought, ”Oh, gosh — what’s happened? Has Portia de Rossi been hurt? Has Ellen lost someone close to her?” The copious waterworks were (deep breath: This sob story has layers) over an adopted dog that the TV talk-show hostess had given away because it didn’t get along with her cats. The pet-adoption organization that took the doggy from its new owner claimed that DeGeneres had violated their contract by finding another home for the dog herself, which Ellen acknowledged was technically correct — but still humanistically cold. The resulting media frenzy is understandable. Because at a time when stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera are dropping cones of silence over themselves by declining to announce their possible pregnancies, and as the TV industry cynically induces weeping as entertainment (see any given competition on Kid Nation), DeGeneres’ spontaneous tear-duct combustion has a crackling aura of authenticity.

DeGeneres’ emotional Oct. 16 outburst (and really, we wish nothing more than soothed nerves and a bag of rubber pull-toys for everyone hurt in this canine kerfuffle) neatly coincided with two confessionals from Oprah Winfrey. First she announced that her health was compromised by a thyroid condition (”Do not wait until your body turns on you,” she warned). Three days later, during a talk with a woman who’d dated a married man, Winfrey revealed that, when she was in her 20s, she’d also been the ”other woman” in a relationship she called ”one of my greatest regrets.” She said this was the first time she’d ever told this on TV. Spontaneous? Probably not. Authentic? Sure.

Truly, it’s a perfect storm of celebrity over-sharing. On the Oct. 19 edition of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher , the host blew a gasket when hecklers interrupted him. Instead of tears, Maher sprouted porcupine spines, physically helping the studio security guards eject one of the objectors and bellowing for some ”ass kicking.”

Remember the old days when hosts like Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones left the emotional eruptions to the audience? Ellen et al. have simply eliminated the chair-throwing middlemen, controlling their own lack-of-control moments. In the post-Rosie era of daytime TV, hosts are making self-revelation the entertainment. (Although O’Donnell’s replacement Whoopi Goldberg demonstrated how lame the tactic can be when she — cough! — revealed she’s a closet smoker.)

This ain’t over. There’s someone lurking in the rafters waiting to return: Don Imus, the old bat in a cowboy hat who’s full-to-burstin’ with unwarranted bile he’s sure to want to over-share with us as soon as he gets back on the radio.