Chris Hardwick has been plugged into online culture for most of his career, so it’s fitting that he’s nominated not once but twice for Best Interactive Program at the Emmys this year: for AMC’s “Talking Dead” and Comedy Central’s tongue-in-cheek game show “@Midnight.” “It’s a huge honor to be nominated,” says Hardwick, noting the elite company he’s in: also in contention are “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Saturday Night Live: SNL40” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
The fact that the Emmys even have a category for interactive programs is “really important because that’s where media is now,” he says, but “the concept of being interactive doesn’t just mean putting clips on YouTube, which a lot of people used to think.” There’s a much wider variety of online platforms than just a few years ago, from Tumblr to Twitter, Snapchat to Periscope, and everywhere in-between. “Television used to be essentially a monologue, where you would sit on the couch and the TV would fire stuff at your face … but now, it’s all a conversation.”
“Talking Dead” is a live after-show following new episodes of the hit horror series “The Walking Dead.” It features celebrity guests, call-in questions, online polls and a live studio audience, and for Hardwick, one of the benefits of live TV is that “you can’t be too precious about it. You just make it, and then it’s done … It’s immediate, and I think it’s vital for the type of show that ‘Talking Dead’ is.”
“The Walking Dead” has been spun-off into a new companion series, “Fear the Walking Dead,” which premieres August 23, and Hardwick has already seen the first episode. “It’s really great,” he says. “In ‘Walking Dead,’ Rick gets shot and wakes up in the hospital and the world sucks [already in the pilot episode], but getting to see how the world became sucky is such a great journey. If it works the way I think it’s going to, it’ll give people a more year-round Sunday night appointment to be in this world.”
“@Midnight” is a much different kind of interactive experience, featuring a rotating panel of comics competing for points as they riff on the best (and worst) content that’s currently trending online. “It’s probably my favorite job I’ve ever had,” Hardwick says. “It’s about internet culture, which I’ve been a part of since 1993. It’s about stand-up, and it’s with my friends; almost all the people on the show are friends of mine. It’s the dream job to get to do that four nights a week.”
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Photo: Chris Hardwick hosting “@Midnight.” Credit: Comedy Central/Everett/REX