Every Sunday night on AMC in the US they air the apocalyptic zombie drama series The Walking Dead at 9pm, followed later that night at midnight by their talk show The Talking Dead. It’s an inspired TV series that really plays well to the potential of social television.
Airing live at midnight, The Talking Dead reacts to the events that occurred in that nights episode of The Walking Dead, with calls taken from viewers live to air and commentary on what has been said by fans across social media platforms. While host and faux nerd Chris Hardwick is bland and brings little to the show, this weeks panel was a lot of fun: the Director of this weeks episode “Judge, Jury, Executioner” Greg Nicotero, comedian and writer Dana Gould, and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.
What works about it is that The Talking Dead legitimises and strengthens the fan engagement with the text. It’s one thing for AMC to broadcast the episodes each week along with providing a message board, but it’s another to create a show like this that actually serves as a focal point for the fan discussion. (Without giving away any real spoilers) This weeks episode of The Walking Dead, particularly, served as a turning point for the show and it was great to see the panel on The Talking Dead offer their opinions on the morality of decisions the characters made, the effect the storyline had on the cast of the show, and also to hear fans take an interest in the technical aspects of the show (a question about a particular stomach-churning event in the episode led to some interesting revelations about chicken meats value to the show).
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen panel shows dedicated to TV series before. The UK’s Big Brother’s Big Mouth is probably the best known of these types of series, but locally we’ve seen shows like Sunday Night and Australia’s Got Talent offer regular after show programs on digital multichannels. The Talking Dead is, however, one of the rare times we’ve seen it applied to a scripted weekly series.
There’s no reason why the structure and form of The Talking Dead cannot be applied to other scripted TV series. A similar panel/fan engagement series would work just as well for a show like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. I’d love to see Australian networks attempt something similar. I could easily see a program like this working for shows with strong viewer engagement like Underbelly, Danger 5, or Packed To The Rafters. The upcoming Foxtel program Wentworth seems like an ideal candidate for an After Party panel show.
With TV shifting more and more towards time shifted/online viewing and away from the linear TV station broadcast model, it is important for linear stream broadcasters to find a way to drive viewers toward their model. What more perfect a way than this? A low-cost panel show that serves to not only encourage viewers to stick with watching the featured program live to air, but also promotes and strengthens viewer engagement with their show?
The Talking Dead is a great, well-executed concept that TV network executives should learn from.