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Where did all these after-show talk shows come from? And why do we love them?

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Water-cooler talk about the hottest shows on TV isn’t a new concept. But in a day and age when social media is replacing the water cooler and the talk consists of hashtags, an interesting trend is emerging. The concept of the network after-show talk show is blowing up, whereby episodes of top shows are dissected in an open, and thoroughly entertaining, forum. And on television.

From the beginning

Inspired by Bravo’s late night talk show Watch What Happens: Live hosted by Andy Cohen, AMC led the charge toward this trend for the primetime drama genre. In 2011, the network commissioned self-professed geek and CEO of Nerdist Enterprises Chris Hardwick and aired an hour-long talk show called Talking Dead immediately following episodes in the second season of The Walking Dead. Seeing how committed fans became sparked a light bulb moment: There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes of such an elaborately-produced show and so many theories floating around, why not create a talk show where super fans, cast, and crew can express their thoughts, and viewers can weigh in?

Are viewers really so invested that they’re willing to tune in for an extra 30-60 minutes after a show to talk about the show?

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AMC continued to capitalize on the success of the format in 2013 with a half-hour version called Talking Bad that aired after its newest hit series at the time, Breaking Bad. The breakout show polarized fans, and left plenty of room for analysis, debate, and discussion.

That was followed up by another edition of Talking Dead, which airs after The Walking Dead spin-off Fear the Walking Dead; then Talking Saul to follow Better Call Saul (Breaking Bad’s spinoff). Most recently, Talking Preacher, airing after the pilot and season one finale of that new AMC series, joined the list. Meanwhile, Talking Dead is still going strong as we anticipate The Walking Dead’s seventh season. The episode that aired after (spoiler alert) Glenn’s possible death scene last year brought in 6.2 million total viewers, about 36% of the 17.1 million total audience of the actual show. At the 67th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, Talking Dead received further kudos with a nomination for Outstanding Interactive Program.

Not surprisingly, other networks are taking notice.

Recently, Space launched Innerspace: After the Black, a half-hour talk show that follows each episode of Orphan Black; and earlier this year, HBO devised After the Thrones for Game of Thrones. The latest to get the after-show treatment is USA Network’s Mr. Robot with Hacking Robot, which is set to air after the two-part season premiere on July 13.

Are viewers really so invested that they’re willing to tune in for an extra 30-60 minutes after a show to talk about the show?

Andy Greenwald, host of After the Thrones, told HBO’s Katie M. Lucas shortly after the talk show was announced that, while covering Game of Thrones on his show Grantland (alongside co-host Chris Ryan), the pair “quickly realized that the fandom and culture surrounding each episode … was just as thrilling and engaging as the show itself.”

Keeping the viewers tuned in

But what does it take for an after-show talk show to succeed? Take a gander at each program and you’ll instantly notice a familiar, cookie-cutter formula.

An engaging host, or hosts, is key. Hardwick is so clearly and genuinely passionate about the shows he covers that it shines through. Viewers feel as though they’re sitting in a coffee shop with friends, geeking out over the minutia of the latest episode. The conversation flows seamlessly; it feels casual and conversational, not scripted.

Viewers crave being part of an exclusive club, and getting a secret window into the show.

An equally excited panel of guests presenting their own analyses and opinions is a critical part of the formula as well. Typically, these include a rotating list of cast and crew from the show; and sometimes celebrity fans. Everyone from comedian Patton Oswalt to rocker Dave Navarro to actor Nathan Fillion has appeared on Talking Dead. The one caveat to being a panel member: you must be a super fan. But cast and crew guests are important, too. It’s difficult not to be enthralled listening to Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero describe the intricate work and thought that goes into the creation of each and every walker or fight scene. And hearing Tatiana Maslany’s body double Kathryn Alexandre explain how they shoot scenes in Orphan Black where she and Maslany are playing multiple characters is fascinating.

What’s an after-show without some juicy inside information? Viewers crave being part of an exclusive club, and getting a secret window into the show. After the Black addresses its viewers as “Clone Club” members. Talking Dead keeps the chatter going online for an additional 30 minutes after the show airs. That “inside” information is highly desirable for those inevitable “did you know” conversations later.

Taking a page from the reality TV playbook, a level of interactivity is a must as well. This is usually achieved through viewer Facebook and Twitter questions read live for panel members to answer, as well as trivia that gives super fans chest-puffing honors to prove their vast knowledge of the show.

What can make or break a show?

An after-show talk show needs to find its own voice and address the unique needs of each show’s viewers. It’s the host’s job to set this tone, so a lot of pressure falls on these individuals. This means genuinely being a fan of the show. Hardwick achieves this brilliantly, but it’s too early in the game to know if the others can replicate that accomplishment.

Even with a great host, however, lackluster guests can have a negative impact. And so can the failure to have a steady selection of engaging guests. Often times, live interviews are mixed with pre-recorded on-set interviews that add another layer to that level of “exclusive” access and personal commentary.

Finally, the format needs to be broken up in a desirable, and easily consumable, fashion. To get viewers to tune in for more time, there needs to be some real, digestible, bite-sized pieces of meat on those conversational bones.

The after-show talk show is here to stay

After-show talk shows take fans on a spoon fed, light-hearted, sometimes intense, journey through their favorite shows. They’re CliffsNotes for TV.

But beyond that, the after show has the opportunity to become the modern-day book club. Fans get together to psychoanalyze, theorize, express opinions, and convey emotions about what they just saw on screen while it’s fresh in their minds. And we get to sit back, watch, and nod our heads in agreement as theories are validated, or perk our heads up at the introduction of new insights. It’s cathartic.

The benefits aren’t just for viewers. Networks secure a captive audience for another hour, and get to offer that much-needed added value over streaming services.

Whether the other shows can follow in AMC’s successful footsteps remains to be seen. But it’s clear that viewers want in. So expect to see many more after-show talk shows pop up as more captivating series are released, and spark our desire to dig even deeper into their plotlines, as the networks lead the way.

Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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