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Ryan Seacrest may seem like a lightweight, but former Entertainment Tonight anchor John Tesh (below) says the American Idol host has the skills to keep a show moving and make it seem effortless.
Ryan Seacrest is getting ready to host the Emmys and the Super Bowl, in addition to American Idol. And he's just one of hundreds of TV hosts out there right now. Cooking shows, real estate shows, dog shows and celebrity news shows — they all need hosts, too.
But what for? Is Seacrest just a pretty face, or do he and all the other hosts of all those other shows actually have talent? The answer, believe it or not, is that there's an art to hosting a TV show.
It may be easier to appreciate that art after you've seen it done badly. To wit: Merry Miller's botched attempt to host an ABC News Now interview with actress Holly Hunter about the new television show Saving Grace. Miller's struggles amused millions — who made her an unwilling Internet star.
In that one segment, Miller referred to her outlet as NBC instead of ABC and gave the wrong premiere date for Hunter's show. Capitalizing on the embarrassment, ABC decided to run a hosting contest.
Still, no one from the network responded to NPR's request for an interview. We had better luck with the Food Network. Executive Bob Tuschman judges a hosting competition called The Next Food Network Star. Succeeding as a host, he says, takes a seemingly contradictory combination of skills.
"You're a star, and you're a little bit untouchable, and there's something more glamorous about your life than mine," Tuschman says. "But at the same time, I relate to you, I want to have coffee with you, I want to tell you my problems. I feel like I know you."
When it comes to hosting, John Tesh is a veteran. He had a long run on Entertainment Tonight, and he has worked all sorts of sports events. He says different kinds of shows require very different skills.
"There's a cadence to it," Tesh says. "You can tell when the announcer is just not comfortable. I remember in the old days at CBS Sports when I was doing the Tour de France bike race, and the next day I had to do a horse race, and the horse race just crashed and burned, because I didn't have that cadence."
When it comes to the Food Network hosting contest, Tuschman says, cooking is not the critical ingredient.
"It is very difficult to have a great sense of yourself when you have 40 people in a room staring at you, with the lights going and 10 cameras on you," he says. "I know how hard it is; it is much harder than it looks."
Tesh says Entertainment Tonight was pretty simple — it just required reading off a TelePrompTer. Still, Tesh worked at it.
"I studied Cronkite and also, especially, Brokaw, who told me ... the real power of a communicator is knowing when to produce silence," Tesh says.
Big, live events like the Olympics present the greatest challenge of all. Tesh is in awe of Bob Costas and other hosts who chat before millions of viewers while taking cues from a director in one earpiece and a producer in the other.
Still, the principle of knowing when to stop still applies — something Tesh observed when he worked the U.S. Open tennis tournament with Pat Summerall.
"McEnroe would hit an amazing winning shot, and Summerall would just go, 'McEnroe' — and that's it! That's all he would say. Because that's all it really needed."