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Do Cable Drama After-Shows Capture Watercooler Buzz or Waste Fans’ Time?

Do Cable Drama After-Shows Capture Watercooler Buzz or Waste Fans' Time?

Just this month, to celebrate the return of the seventh and
final season of “Sons of Anarchy,” FX launched “Anarchy
Afterword,” a half-hour chat show/lovefest hosted by Chris Franjola that
featured interviews with members of the creative team behind the popular biker
drama (including creator Kurt Sutter and stars Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal),
along with clip reels and red carpet footage from the season premiere.

“Anarchy Afterword” joins an ever-expanding roster of these after-shows, which include
the “Bates Motel”-dedicated “After Hours” and the pioneering “Talking Dead,”
heading into its fourth season following AMC’s “The Walking Dead in October. And that’s not counting such
one-offs as BBC America’s “After Who Live,” which accompanied the commencement
of the Peter Capaldi era of “Doctor Who,” or after-shows that joined
their companion shows in the TV after-world, like AMC’s “Talking Bad,”
which aired during “Breaking Bad”‘s final 8-episode run.

It should be noted, of course, that “Talking Dead” (and, for its brief life span, “Talking
Bad”) remains the only after-show
with a weekly timeslot on its network; “After Hours” aired twice during “Bates Motel”‘s
second season — once after the premiere and again after the finale — and FX
is employing a similar strategy with “Anarchy Afterword,” although
three additional installments will be posted online following episodes slated
to air on September 30, October 21 and December 2 respectively.

Even more than post-game sports jawfests, the direct
antecedent for the new wave of after-shows is reality television, where the
concept dates back at least a solid decade to the days of MTV’s “Laguna
Beach.” That network continues to slap half-hour wrap-ups on the backs of
some of its most popular reality shows, from “Jersey Shore” to “Catfish.”

Bravo also regularly seizes the opportunity to replay and
relive the squabbles on its various unscripted (in the loosest sense of the
term) soap operas, “Million Dollar Listing,” “Millionaire
Matchmaker” and the numerous “Real
Housewives” iterations on its
nightly recap round-up, “Watch What Happens: Live,” hosted by the
network’s former head of development-turned-legitimate on-camera star, Andy
Cohen.

With its roster of celebrity guest stars, emphasis on
audience interactivity and hyper-awereness of social media, “Watch What
Happens” provides a clear template for “Talking Dead” and its ilk, all of which follow the
same basic format even if the series they’re connected to can differ wildly in
terms of tone and genre. A genial, geeky host sits opposite one or more members
of the show’s creative team (and maybe a celebrity guest, who isn’t connected
with the series apart from claiming to be a fan) and raves about what we all
just saw, pausing occasionally to ask a softball question.

Clips from the just-completed hour are shown, events on
upcoming episodes are teased (with the talent always responding with some
variation on “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you” through strained
laughter) and fan feedback is consumed either through e-mail, Twitter or the
random, pre-screened phone call. In theory, it’s an easy, inexpensive way for a
cable network to fill a half-hour of airtime after a popular show and give
audiences a reason to stick around instead of immediately skipping to the next
show on their DVR and/or Netflix queue. (And, so far at least, these
drama-centric after-shows are all cable-based, with the big networks only doing
the occasional after-show thing for long-running reality series like “The
Bachelor” and “Survivor.”)

Because they’re perceived as easy and inexpensive, though,
it’s rare for these after- shows to be any good. In its maiden airing, at
least, “Anarchy Afterword” was
true car-crash (or, considering its mother show, make that motorcycle-crash) television,
with Franjola — a comedian and fixture on Chelsea Handler’s recently-defunct
E! tak show “Chelsea Lately” — losing control of the wheel within
the first five minutes and never recovering.

Visibly nervous, Franjola started out by lavishing so much
praise on guests Sutter and Hunnam, even they wore expressions that said
“Dial it back, dude.” He then posed the question that he’d ask
multiple times in multiple ways over the course of the half-hour: how did they
feel about this being the last season? Things careened further downhill from
there, eventually bottoming out when Frajola botched a segue between
pre-scripted questions and laid the blame (and an expletive) on the producers
yelling at him through his earpiece. “Segues sometimes on this live shit,
it doesn’t work,” he told his bemused guests, who at that point weren’t
even pretending to take the proceedings seriously.

Franjola’s deer-in-the-headlights performance did serve to
make one thing clear: Chris Hardwick must work awfully hard to make his
multiple after-show hosting duties
look so easy. The professional nerd has hosted “Talking Dead” since its 2011 launch and also anchored
“Talking Bad” as well as
the “After Who Live” event. It’s easy to make fun of Hardwick, given
his propensity for lapsing into braying laughter at not-all-that-funny jokes
and shoehorning in fan-baity catchphrases. But for the most part, he knows how
to keep the conversation moving along smoothly and his enjoyment of the shows
he’s recapping doesn’t come across as forced. (To be fair, Franjola does seem
to be a legitimate “Sons of Anarchy” fan — he just can’t maintain the proper level of professionalism
to accompany his enthusiasm.)

Granted, there was plenty to enjoy in the final eight
episodes of “Breaking Bad,” but the fact that Hardwick is able to be
similarly enthused week-in and week-out about “The Walking Dead” — a
show that regularly goes through some famously tedious stretches and
questionable creative moves — is almost a miracle on the level of a zombie
cure. And if he’s faking it, then he’s a much better actor than Dave Holmes,
who anchored the second installment of “Bates Motel: After Hours” (replacing original host Carrie Keagan)
and came across as if the Season 2 finale was the first and only episode of the
show he’d watched.

Even Hardwick’s heartfelt, just-this-close-to-being-obnoxious
nerdgasms over “The Walking Dead” can’t entirely hide the fact that “Talking
Dead” — the most well-produced of the new drama-centric after-shows — is
mostly as substance-free as its brethren.

Watch: Relive the Full ‘Breaking Bad’ Arc in Under Three Minutes in AMC’s New Countdown Video

Every now and then a funny anecdote or revealing comment
will be imparted (for example it was cute, on “Anarchy Afterword,” to
watch husband-and-wife team Sutter and Sagal briefly hold hands, united in the
face of Franjola’s inept questioning). But both the hosts and the guests are
quick to keep the discussion couched in the most superficial terms, hampered
both by time constraints, the desire to maintain an upbeat, smiley-faced tone
and the fear of spoiling future episodes. For now, these after-shows are padded
infomercials, straining to sell the audience on a product they’re already fans
of.

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