These days the late night talk show market is rife with choices. John Oliver and Samantha Bee lead the politically savvy pack of hosts whose comedy attempts to skewer those in power while educating viewers. Newer participants, like Comedy Central’s The President Show, endeavor to do the same — albeit with more bluntness. Elsewhere, legacy programs like The Tonight Show, The Late Show and The Daily Show, approach the same politicized material with far more general audiences in mind.
And then there’s Chris Hardwick, the comedian turned host of the long-running Nerdist Podcast, whose Talking franchise on AMC had largely focused on its own programs and their fanbases. The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Preacher — all have become the reactionary talk show’s focus at one point or another. Yet with time to fill between new seasons of each (minus Breaking Bad), AMC and Hardwick decided to open up the conversation-centric platform and embrace all things pop culture in Talking with Chris Hardwick.
Judging by the initial press release and our discussion with Hardwick, Talking at first sounds like a filmed version of the podcast. Yet Talking Dead and its offshoots did far more than commit an audio recording to video, and its latest iteration may very well do the same. Besides, considering the experience Hardwick has amassed after years of podcasting and hosting shows like @midnight, Talking with Chris Hardwick may accomplish what so many others don’t and spend most of its time “talking.”
Talking Dead obviously sparked Talking with Chris Hardwick, but I’m curious: How did this new show specifically come about? Did AMC come to you, you to them, or some third option?
I think it just came from AMC saying, “What would you do with that time slot?” Or, “What would you do with Sunday nights when The Walking Dead wasn’t on?” At first, I kind of brushed it off. People watch Talking Dead because of The Walking Dead. I never thought they would be interested in watching me do something else on Sunday nights, so I just joked about it and moved on, but they were persistent. So I told them I would probably take the skin of Talking Dead and make a similar show, but spiritually, it would be more like the Nerdist Podcast, because that’s something I don’t really see on television anymore.
Everyone is so desperately chasing after audiences with presumed short attention spans. “We’ve got to do viral clips! We’ve got to have a lot of guests on! We’ve got to move as fast as possible so no has a chance to change the channel!” So I said let’s just throw all of that away and do a show that is essentially a televised version of the Nerdist Podcast. Which Talking Dead already is, to a degree, but with a live audience at the taping, the audience watching at home, and everyone else on social media. With all of this combined, we would weave in participatory elements similar to what you’d see at a Comic-Con panel. Ultimately it’d be a conversation between me and whoever is on the show, but with as many connections to the biggest audience possible.
I’ve moderated a lot of Comic-Con panels, I remember telling AMC, so what if I ran the new Talking show like one of those? That way, what resulted would be more of a moderated conversation between me and the audience, as well as the guests who were on that particular episode. Does that make sense? What we came up with was basically a cross between Talking Dead, the Nerdist Podcast and a Comic-Con panel. That’s the best way I can describe it.
This is basically how Talking was described in the original press release, and it makes sense. The majority of late night feels less like “talk” shows and more like strings of bits tied together with occasional conversation. What you’ve described is something I’d like to see more of. I’m sure audiences feel the same.