His show started in 1965, the year I was born. So his show was hitting its formula stride right about the time I began watching TV as a pre-schooler. When I was home with my mom or spending the day over with my grandmother, I know the Merv was a regular staple for background noise in the family room. As a crooner, he was always good for an opening number - and he was a pretty good interviewer too. He was sort of like that older uncle that kind of knew everybody and everybody was happy to visit.
But Merv was the only one. I remember quite well the Mike Douglas show came on later in the afternoon, hosted by another jovial singer. Most people recall Mike's show for interesting things like guest host week (like when John Lennon and Yoko Ono were on). Mike seemed a bit less polished than Merv, but still entertaining. Mike certainly didn't mind when the joke ended up being on him.
Then there was Dinah. Dinah Shore's talk show used to come on earlier in the day. Again, hosted by a singer and actress (I think the key to a successful talk show was that you had to be an entertainer yourself), Dinah had that much more at-ease, relaxed feel to it. Guests on her show seemed like they were stopping in for coffee at that nice neighbor's house.
I guess what I liked about so many of these shows is that I got to see celebrities outside the roles they were playing in films and on TV. Sure I would thumb through my grandmother's movie magazines, but that was just static poses (usually at premieres or such) and boring news copy. On the shows, here were famous people just hanging out and talking about projects, family, whatever. It was also a chance to get to see musical acts perform - a chance to put faces to the voices I'd hear on the radio. Remember, this was the 70's when we were lucky to have the three major networks - so the only place you could see the stars was on the day-time talk shows or late at night on Johnny Carson.
I know some folks still try to keep this format alive in today's syndicated market. Rosie did okay with it until the show turned into a platform for her personal views (I don't recall the 70's talk-show hosts ever getting controversial - they always seemed to be open-minded but more likely I was too young to notice). Donny and Marie tried to do a show but things didn't last too long there; still they had the right spirit to it. Ellen seems to have the formula down pretty good; while she has her own views she seems to keep them in check in favor of being entertaining. She reminds me of a nice mix of what Merv, Mike and Dinah used to do.