'The Talk' Co-Hosts Detail Fresh Start After Past Seasons — and Why They're 'Clicking'

Natalie Morales, Amanda Kloots, Jerry O'Connell, Sheryl Underwood and Akbar Gbajabiamila tell PEOPLE about the "secret sauce" behind their success after mere months together on air

the talk
Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS

Change has been "good" at The Talk, according to Sheryl Underwood.

Underwood, who has been at the CBS daytime show for more than 10 years, has seen a revolving door of co-hosts pass through the studio. But the comic, 58, told PEOPLE that just several months with relatively new costars Natalie Morales, Amanda Kloots, Jerry O'Connell and Akbar Gbajabiamila has "really been a reinvigoration of what daytime is all about."

The Talk experienced several cast changes last year. In March, CBS announced Sharon Osbourne left the show after more than a decade as co-host. Then, O'Connell became the first male host when he joined as a permanent member of the panel in the summer.

Weeks later, in August 2021, Elaine Welteroth announced her departure after just one season and Carrie Ann Inaba exited after three seasons. Then, Gbajabiamila joined the panel in September before Morales officially signed on in October. (Kloots had started in January 2021. Eve departed after four seasons and Marie Osmond left after a single season, both in 2020.)

"Even through all the changes that we've had here, it's just been a wonderful place to be and I've been so grateful to be here," Kloots, 39, told PEOPLE.

The former Broadway star, who joined The Talk following the death of her husband Nick Cordero, added, "I never thought I'd be a talk show host ever. That was just never something I thought I would do. The Talk felt like home and I definitely think this was destiny and a gift. You get these once in a while in life and I definitely feel like this was one of them for sure."

amanda kloots
amanda kloots/instagram

Most of Kloots' cast members have also equated their roles as "dreams" come true. While O'Connell told PEOPLE that he's been having a "tremendous amount of fun," it wasn't all positive for him at first.

"It was crazy coming here that first time because it was right after trauma happened," the actor, 47, said of temporarily subbing in for Osbourne after the scandal last spring. "I didn't really know that much about it."

(Last year, Osbourne, 68, departed The Talk amid controversy surrounding remarks she made on air during a conversation pertaining to Piers Morgan. "Sharon Osbourne has decided to leave The Talk," a statement from CBS announced at the time, going on to say that her "behavior toward her co-hosts during the March 10 episode did not align with our values for a respectful workplace.")

Looking back, O'Connell, who credits Kelly Ripa and Wendy Williams for early daytime guest-hosting opportunities, said, "There was only one way to go and that was up [at The Talk]. I mean, I would say something moderately funny during the show and everyone would be laughing hysterically. I'd be like, 'These people need to laugh.' Everything happens for a reason."

Underwood, who still keeps in contact with many former co-hosts, added: "It's always fun when you're somewhere where you can work with people you love. We have the right team for right now. It's a positive affirmation that we're going in the right direction."

natalie morales
natalie morales / instagram

Since the changes and into the new year, The Talk has already seen higher ratings. The co-hosts attribute their early success to a fresh slate and a new format.

"What makes our group so special is the fact that we have all unique backgrounds but we don't have egos like that. Everyone has an ego but our egos don't conflict with each other because we have different backgrounds," Gbajabiamila, 42, told PEOPLE. "There's not the same type of personality. Then you have a glue like Sheryl Underwood who's been here, who holds the treasure of the show's past and brings us all in it together. It's a really special group."

Underwood, who joined in 2011, said she wishes other daytime talk shows "would look at what we're doing to replicate it."

"The other shows are our colleagues, that's how I look at it. We're all in a daytime space and we're all colleagues. We're colleagues with The View, colleagues with The Real and any other panel show that comes up. But the one thing that we did is we kept putting in the different ingredients until we got the right meal," she said.

In addition to bringing on male co-hosts O'Connell and Gbajabiamila, Underwood noted the "authentic" rapport at The Talk as another reason for its popularity among viewers.

"That's why it's clicking. We just got together and it's clicking in a way because it's working," she said. "I think the diversity shows here and it's not forced. That's what it is, it's not forced."

The American Ninja Warrior star agreed. "When people sense that it's real, they genuinely want to be a part of that conversation. We're in people's homes five days a week and you can't fake that, and if it is faked or forced, it doesn't feel like a natural conversation. Change is good," he said.

Morales, 49, told PEOPLE that "everybody brings something different" but the addition of O'Connell and Gbajabiamila was a "game-changer" for the show. "I hear more and more stories about guys relating to what our guys are saying. I love that. There's a wide, vast daytime audience. I'm glad that we can represent in all ways. Having the men, the women and different backgrounds," she said.

Kloots added, "There are many different levels of relatability we each bring to this panel which I think is our special sauce because we are all so different. Our chemistry as a cast is awesome. Bringing Natalie in, who was just this seasoned pro, I feel like she was just the icing on this beautiful cake that we already had. It's the best icing we didn't even know we needed. She's just been fitting in since day one and just I think elevated us all to a different level."

Morales, who left NBC's Today and Access for CBS, called The Talk "authentic television" and doubled down on the fact that "there's no put on, there's nobody trying to be something that they're not."

"What I've always heard is if you're having fun, the audience will come. If you build it, they will come. So, we're rebuilding it, rebranding it and making it ours," Morales said.

"We really are trying to be very warm, welcoming and excited. I think that from at home, you're going to feel that from the screen. It is a new, fresh energy that is part of this show now. Not to say it was never there, but this is just a different adaptation of the show," Kloots echoed. "It's been working really well. I think that anyone viewing the show will be pleasantly surprised at how much they are smiling, laughing and enjoying our conversations."

O'Connell summarized it succinctly: "I just really enjoy coming to work."

The Talk airs weekdays on CBS, check local listings.

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