If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, Chris Hardwick has your dream job. As host of Talking Dead, the freewheeling after-show for the hit zombie drama, the comic and Nerdist podcaster gets to have the same intense, post-episode conversations that we do — but with a much cooler crowd that includes TWD’s cast and creators and a throng of celebrities gleefully letting their fan flag fly.
The rest of us can take part, too, via call-in questions and online commentary. And when Talking returns in its new hourlong incarnation after The Walking Dead’s Feb. 10 midseason premiere, Hardwick hopes that the viewers get as much airtime as its famous guests.
“In the first episodes of the show, there were a lot of packaged segments,” he says. “And what we learned — particularly when we started to do the after-show, which was a 15-minute, web-only extension of Talking Dead — was that that turned out to be way more comfortable, because there wasn’t as much structure to it. It was really just a bunch of fans talking about the show and it was very conversational. People do love to see behind-the-scenes stuff, because it’s really cool to see how [TWD special effects wizard Gregory] Nicotero does what he does. But you don’t want to feel like there is not enough time for conversation.”
Hardwick says booking the celebs who clamor for a spot on Talking’s two-man sofa is a collaborative effort between him and the show’s producers. “For instance, they said the WWE champion CM Punk was going to come on the show,” he recalls. “I thought they were just putting a wrestler on the show because he’s famous, but he came on the show and it had nothing to do with that at all! He was an amazing guest with all this information about the show, and he reads the comics.”
Hardwick admits he likes it just fine when his guests don’t see eye-to-eye.
“You want it to be a debate,” he explains. “You want new ideas to be expressed, just like when you’re hanging out with your friends. When Punk and [Community star] Yvette Nicole Brown didn’t agree on Merle, just watching them go back and forth about it — this is what the show is.”
And, adds Hardwick, his famous guests’ opinions and concerns frequently mirror those of the viewing audience, allowing the show’s executive producers to put millions of minds at ease at once. And maybe a few, too.
“When Dave Navarro was on and he looked at [former The Walking Dead showrunner] Glen Mazzara and was like, ‘I don’t like what’s happening with the show right now.’ And Glen was like, ‘You just have to wait — give it two more episodes.’ And that’s what happened. Navarro waited a couple episodes and I saw him at the Season 3 premiere and he was like, ‘I want to come back on the show and take back everything I said to Mazarro. Because he was right — I waited and the show got so much more amazing than I could have hoped for.’”
Hardwick is also happy that Talking’s new time slot, sandwiched between each premiere episode of The Walking Dead and its first rerun, allows fans to immediately review the episode with fresh perspective. “It’s fun, because you can watch the episode, get a bunch of inside stuff and then watch the show again with all this information that you didn’t have before — which freshens it up,” he says. “You can be like, ‘Oh, now I see this!’ Or ‘Kirkman told me what Michonne is thinking in this scene and so that makes this make a lot more sense now.’ And that really makes it more of an experience than just a TV show that you are watching.”
It also makes Hardwick the leader of what may be the world’s largest show-obsessed support group.
“Not every show needs an after-show,” he chuckles. “But there are some shows that are so dense with drama and storylines and basic emotional intensity that they require that you deal with that afterwards. Some shows just require you to have some therapy after.”
Talking Dead returns in its new 10/9CT time slot Sundays beginning Feb. 10 on AMC