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Upstarts Want to Break the TV Talk-Show Mold : Television: Four more hosts will soon be syndicated across America--all of them unknowns. But with a glut of small-screen chatter, how will they stand out?

The New Season. One in a series


Oprah, Phil, Geraldo, Sally Jessy, Vicki, Maury, Joan, Jane, Arsenio, Jay, Chevy, Conan, Dave, John and Leeza, Regis and Kathie Lee--did we miss anyone?--must not be enough.

Because, this month, four more ambitious TV talk-show hosts will be syndicated across America. Their names are no-names: Bertice, Les, Shirley and Ricki. So their presence on the small screen demands an explanation:

Why them ?

"I come from sociology and education," said Bertice.

"I'm one of the few who can come into this with a point of view," said Les.

"I bring the experience of journalism," said Shirley.

"I'm only 24," said Ricki.

In other words, each promises a new brand of talk, an almost revolutionary alternative to the tabloid chatter they claim dominates the genre. Call it kinder and gentler television, a more serious-minded approach that will search for answers instead of accusations.

"We've informed people they were abused," Bertice said. "Let's not wallow in it. I don't want to end on an argument and say we're out of time. Let's present options."

"People want to get back to real stories, not just bizarre freak shows," Shirley said.

Who are these upstarts? And why do they think they can carve out a niche in an already crowded field?

Les Brown is the Norman Vincent Peale of the new breed.

"My whole life is about overcoming the odds," Brown said. "I see television as another outlet for the message we've been spreading."

That message is hope, which has been the foundation of his motivational speeches across the country and of his new self-help book, "Live Your Dreams." Abandoned at birth, he was labeled "educable mentally retarded." But, through perseverance, he became a radio disc jockey and three-term Ohio state legislator, started a Detroit-based company specializing in motivational speaking and corporate training, and has been seen on public television many times.

He sees a nation that needs a similar psychological boost.

"People are looking for answers," said Brown, 48, who will stick to the same general talk-show format with guests and daily topics. "They want to know how to get themselves back on track. There's a tremendous need out there for this kind of show."

Brown, of course, acknowledges the obvious link with the famous musician, Les Brown, of the Band of Renown.

Once, when introduced in Las Vegas, the crowd began to erupt in applause until it realized this was not the orchestra leader. "I said 'surprise' and had them running around in circles," Brown said.

Brown's show will air weekdays at 2 p.m. on KCAL-TV Channel 9 beginning Monday.

Bertice Berry, 31, is promoting herself as the woman who has done it all--lecturer, stand-up comedian, sociologist. As a black woman with a talk show, though, she inevitably invites comparisons to Oprah Winfrey.

"Right now, people don't know enough to make me different," she said. "Before, it was Whoopi (Goldberg), because of my stand-up. It could be worse. They could compare me to Charles Manson."

Neither is Berry preoccupied with the glut of talk shows.

"Every year, there are 50 new sitcoms and nobody says anything," she said. "That's because we're prepared for that. Talk shows are still the new kid."

Berry grew up in poverty in Wilmington, Del.,--the sixth of seven children--and was the first in her family to attend college. She went to Jacksonville University in Florida, then got a doctorate at Kent State in 1988. But winning an amateur night contest at a comedy club guaranteed she'd be no full-time academic.

Berry is always scouting for topics. Recently, she checked into a Colorado hotel room at 3 a.m., and her phone rang. It was a man who had seen her register. He said she was attractive; did she want to cuddle? She politely declined, and called her producer. Presto: Polite perverts.

Don't expect a political agenda from her. "I don't belong to anything except AAA and the library," Berry quipped.

Her show will air weekdays at 10 a.m. on KTTV-TV Channel 11, beginning Sept. 13.

Objectivity is also important to Shirley Solomon, a former television reporter and anchor who believes her journalism credentials give her the even-handed approach necessary to tackle the thorniest issues of the day.

"It gives you substance," said Solomon, 46, who began her Toronto-based talk show in 1989. It has been seen only in Canada until now. "Oprah was a reporter, and it certainly has helped her."

Solomon envisions herself as a champion of the castoffs, with empathy that can only result from a personal experience with prejudice. As a Jew growing up in Canada, and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she said she was subjected to constant harassment from her peers.

"When I was 9, I was beaten up on my way to school," Solomon said, "just because I was Jewish. A lot of the abuse was physical and there were a lot of racial slurs."

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