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Portraits: Big hosts of the small screen

Presenters have been a part of our lives since the dawn of broadcasting. These are some of the TV personalities that have had the greatest effect on us  and the medium over the years

Larry King

In more than six decades in broadcasting, including 25 as the host of Larry King Live, King has proven it is possible to bounce back from a career-ending scandal. CNN claims he’s done more than 30,000 interviews, with his non-confrontational approach and easy, open-ended questions appealing to important figures. His iconic glasses and suspenders have appeared on numerous TV shows and movies, where he often portrays himself.

Steve Allen

The actor and musician is considered the father of the modern-day talk show, as creator of The Tonight Show and its mix of monologue, sketches and audience interaction. He got his start in radio, but was also a prolific composer with a Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. The advocate of scientific scepticism boasts two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as a Hollywood theatre named in his honour. 

David Letterman

Heir apparent to Johnny Carson’s late-night crown, Letterman has channelled his irreverent sense of humour into a career that’s inspired a host of contemporary presenters. Since retiring from TV, he’s grown a beard and taken his grouchy personality to Netflix, with My Next Guest Needs No Introduction debuting with interviews featuring Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Malala Yousafzai, George Clooney, Tina Fey and Howard Stern. The second series was released in June. 

Oprah Winfrey

Born into rural poverty, today Oprah is one-name-only famous and one of the richest and most-influential people in the world. She’s created her own media empire from her genre-defining talk show built around the intimate confessional. Her philanthropy is legendary, with a big focus on education. The actress and media mogul is also known for swaying public opinion in fields as diverse as book sales, beef markets and election voting — called the Oprah effect. 

Jerry Springer

He’s been a lawyer, politician, news presenter, actor and musician, but Springer became a household name in the ’90s for his talk show that quickly descended into tabloid sensationalism, to great ratings success. The profanity- and violence-laced show was often described as tasteless, but it ran for 27 seasons and spawned a controversial musical opera, which returned to the UK in August. Springer returns to the bench — and TV screens — later this year in a new courtroom show called Judge Jerry.

Christiane Amanpour

One of the most respected journalists of our time, Amanpour only entered the industry after her application to attend medical school wasn’t successful. Her reporting from the front line of the wars in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans led to an international profile and 11 Emmys and four Peabody Awards, among others. Currently streaming on Netflix, in Sex & Love Around the World, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador explores attitudes of a more amorous nature in different countries.

John Oliver

The English comedian has gone from stand-up comic, writer, political commentator and television host to one of the most influential figures in the world, effecting governmental change through his satirical news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He’s been rewarded with awards for both journalism and entertainment, and some of the best ratings around.

Merv Griffin

The American television host and media mogul started his entertainment career as a singer on radio at age 19, and his popularity grew when he worked on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. He eventually hosted his own daytime talk show, and was named the richest Hollywood performer in history when he sold his production company for $250 million in 1986. His legacy includes creating the popular game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

Sir David Attenborough

The natural historian and broadcaster has gained worldwide fame and respect for presenting nature to the masses in a way that is both educational and entertaining. He’s won BAFTAs for programmes in black and white, colour, HD, 3D and 4K — the only person to boast that feat. Interestingly, Attenborough is also the creator of televised snooker, while at least 15 species and genera, both living and extinct, have been named in his honour.

Trevor Noah

Born to a black mother and a white father, the comic has carved a career out of his outsider perspective, first as a stand-up comedian in post-apartheid South Africa and most recently looking in on American politics and society as host of the satirical news programme The Daily Show. He won his first Emmy for his YouTube comedy special The Daily Show: Between the Scenes, while his memoir, Born a Crime, was an instant New York Times bestseller.

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