Let’s do it LIVE! Old TV format is new again with comedians hosting late-night talkers in 2013

One of the breakout series on TV this month isn’t on one of the five broadcast networks, nor is it scripted, nor is it even a “reality” for the sake of the “reality” genre tag TV show. It’s AMC’s Talking Dead, a live hourlong talk show hosted by comedian Chris Hardwick devoted to talking about the episode of The Walking Dead that had just premiered in the previous hour that Sunday night.

AMC promoted Talking Dead to an earlier time slot in 2013 and expanded the format from a half-hour to an hour.

In the process, Hardwick’s hour — featuring celebrity guests who often include The Walking Dead‘s comic-book author Robert Kirkman and that week’s latest death-by-zombie-or-gunshot character — has grown viewers in the past two weeks with a total same-night audience of more than 4 million weekly, becoming one of the top shows in all of TV among viewers aged 18-49. As TV Guide’s Michael Schneider pointed out, the show’s 2.2 rating in 18-49 “did better than EVERYTHING on NBC last week among adults 18-49.”

Live TV was the rage in the golden olden age of television.

And now it’s the new new trend, particularly for talk shows hosted by stand-up comedians, in 2013.

Tonight, you’ll see not one but two comedy chat fests that were taped in 2012 and switched formats to live in the past month — Bravo’s Kathy fronted by Kathy Griffin, and FX’s BrandX with Russell Brand. Last week, Griffin and Brand even appeared on each other’s shows as a cross-promotional stunt upping the ante on their live antics.

MTV launched Nikki & Sara LIVE last month as a weekly half-hour full of headline jokes, hidden “news ticker” jokes, field pieces and celebrity interviews. Immediately following each Tuesday night’s episode, comedians Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer go to another room in MTV’s Times Square studios to host an interactive post-show talker online with fans.

Bravo even has stripped its programming executive Andy Cohen’s series, Watch What Happens Live, across several late-night weeknights now.Aside from Talking Dead, none of these other talkers have moved the Nielsen needle enough yet to fundamentally change the television landscape for good.But that landscape has changed and continues to evolve, which is the underlying motive for the trend back to live programming. As audiences continue to fragment and splinter, watching series when they want and where they want — from iPads and other tablets, their laptops, phones and more — the traditional Nielsen ratings for TV shows across the board shrink our collective expectations of what it takes to make a “hit” show. TV remains a social medium, however. And so it has gone in the past couple of years that we’ve taken to social media to move watercooler talk back from the next morning’s workplace to the here and now, wherever your here may be.

Live programming. The Super Bowl. The Golden Globes. Presidential debates.

If everyone is talking about something that’s happening right now on the boob tube, then you have to tune in to join in the discussion. That’s the thinking in TV these days. And who better than comedians to lead and moderate those discussions?

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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