The Timeless Appeal of Tyra Banks’ Delightfully Unhinged Talk Show

Seven years after the cancellation of 'The Tyra Banks Show,' the host's stunts—which included dressing up as a homeless woman—remain pop culture treasures.

by Mitchell Sunderland
Mar 19 2017, 1:24pm

Tyra Banks and Elmo introduce Children?s Programming award winners from the Creative Arts Emmy Award (Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown/WireImage)

This Week in 2007 is a weekly column looking back on Lindsay Lohan, the first iPhone, George W. Bush, and everything else we loved about the year 2007.

For the past two years, Tyra Banks has seemed adrift. In 2014, she was sued by former America's Next Top Model contestant Angelea Preston for breach of contract and labor law violations. A year later, a Broadly investigation questioned the dubious business practices of Tyra Beauty, a multi-level marketing scheme that encourages women to sign up to sell her cosmetics. (The lawsuit is still ongoing, and Banks later told New York magazine, "A lot of that stuff people write is a lie.") She quit her most recent TV venture—hosting a 2015 panel talk show called FABLife—after only two months on the job, so when she announced two days ago that she would return to ANTM, the show that made her a TV star, her fans rejoiced. They mostly celebrated on social media with GIFs and clips from her syndicated talk show, The Tyra Banks Show, that ran from 2005 to 2010.

Many of the talk program's most memorable moments took place a decade ago in 2007, the pop culture year where Bush doomed the economy and Britney tanked her career, and celebrity fans are nostalgic for a show whose host was less obsessed with branding and more interested in being honest, no matter how absurd that made her appear.

"It was absolutely ridiculous, and the only thing Tyra loves more than herself is doing the absolute most every chance she gets," says the blogger who runs the popular Tumblr Pop Culture Died in 2009.

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Where Williams's show is 80 percent pop culture and 20 percent lifestyle interests, Banks' talk program was split between stunts, Jerry Springer-lite specials, and celebrity interviews. She landed several huge pop culture interviews. Kim Kardashian discussed her sex tape with Banks in one of her earliest interviews. When Lauren Conrad visited the show to deny rumors that she too had shot a sex tape, Banks started the interview by holding up a paper mask of Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag and saying, "Spencer and Heidi have started a rumor about you."

Banks's one-hour confrontation with Naomi Campbell about their rivalry has topped all her scoops. She interviews Campbell without a studio audience ("It has to be just me and Naomi alone") and screams, "You called me the 'B' word!" Banks sounds over the top, but she also raises important issues about the modeling world. She and Campbell were the world's lone black supermodels in a world of blonde stick figures, and they discuss how the fashion industry pitted them against each other because they were taught to believe the industry could only handle one black model.

"She was the pre-Wendy Williams, keeping it real in her time," explains the DJ Breniecia Reuben, who co-founded the gossip community Oh No They Didn't!.

She embraced her big mouth antics.

In the mid-2000s, before Teen Vogue covered feminism, Banks was making a brave choice to confront the issue. The decision was even riskier since Banks was one of the few supermodels, alongside Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum, to transition into working as TV personalities. Today, many models work in other fields (Kendall Jenner and the Hadid sisters even started in reality TV), but Banks predicated the trend.

Fans, though, best remember Banks' self-obsessed stunts, like the day she made an episode about people's biggest fears into a soap opera about her fear of dolphins. In a surreal episode addressing America's obesity crisis that comes across like a David Lynch film about body image issues, Banks wears fat prosthetics for a day. (As the popular Twitter personality @Daniecal points out, Banks makes sure to wear Sketchers.)

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During another stunt segment, Banks dons a bandana and heads to Skid Row in Los Angeles, where she approaches two homeless kids and introduces herself: "My name is Tyra." They grimace, but Banks doesn't seem to notice. She asks them to explain the crack pipe lying on the ground. The kids then educate Banks about the difference between a nickel ($5 worth of crack) and a dime ($10 worth). She tells the audience she's showing them how anyone could become homeless. Banks seems unaware that she could be perceived as taking advantage of the kids, but it comes off as endearing. She's tasteless, but she means well.

"[The Tyra Banks Show] was an out-of-touch woman attempting to appear normal and down to earth," notes the pop culture writer Emalie Marthe, who has covered Banks for Broadly.

She often presented self-centered segments as moments that would help the common good. In one notorious episode, which turned ten last month, Banks addresses tabloids that had mocked her weight gain. She appears in a bathing suit, with her hand on her hip, and yells, "For some reason people have a serious problem when I look like that"—she slaps her ass and then thanks her mom for giving her confidence. "If I had lower self-esteem, I would probably be starving myself right now. But that is exactly what's happening to women all across this country. So I have something to say..." Tears roll down her face. "KISS MY FAT ASS!"

Unlike Wendy Williams, who often literally dips a tea bag as she dishes hip-hop gossip, Banks totally lacks self-awareness. But For fans in 2017, a time when supermodels craft their social media with a team and Bachelor contestants arrive with "I'm not here to make friends" strategies, Banks' 2007-era honesty and obliviousness comes across as fresher than the latest episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. As Reuben says about Banks, "She embraced her big mouth antics."