The closing credits of a Discovery Channel Shark Week special barely end before “Shark After Dark Live” fills the screen. Host Josh Wolf sits in the fish tank-themed studio and banters with guests on a couch about what type of shark is most terrifying. Taryn Southern, the show’s “social media goddess,” sits at a desk and scrolls through a laptop and an iPad simultaneously.
“We’ve got everyone talking about sharks here,” Taryn says brightly, with a shark hat perched on her head.
A casual atmosphere, a slightly goofy tone and a focused discussion of the TV show that aired mere moments ago, tweets flying across the screen — welcome to the modern day after-show. While Twitter and Facebook give viewers a forum to obsess over a buzzy TV episode the moment it’s over, these days, network executives are aware it’s best not to combat these inevitable, competing sources of attention. Instead, it’s increasingly important to complement them with a similar outlet on television.
“Talking Bad” is one of the many cable after-shows cropping up, with AMC commissioning the series that will premiere Sunday with the mission to analyze every detail of the final highly-anticipated episodes of “Breaking Bad.” The network learned the importance of after-shows firsthand with “Talking Dead,” which has followed hit zombie drama “The Walking Dead” for two seasons.
“‘Breaking Bad’ has been blowing up in terms of social media for the last couple of seasons, and as we roll to the last date, we had a goal to make it as big of an event as possible,” said Joel Stillerman, AMC’s executive vice president of original programming, production and digital content, who added that the half-hour show will follow a similar format to “Talking Dead.” “This seemed like a great way to do it.”
After all, when people watch a TV show, “they don’t want to go and watch anything else — they want to talk to their friends and the social media world about what just happened,” said Michael Davies, whose Embassy Row productions is behind both AMC companion shows, as well as “Shark After Dark.”
Of course, the key to capitalizing on those rabid viewers is getting them to keep their attention on the TV. “You still want them to watch your network after having gone through the effort of getting them there in the first place,” Davies said.
The idea has been around since MTV realized people wanted to see even more drama on “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” and put together a show where cast members could confront each other about the craziness on-screen. The success led to multiple after-shows, covering everything from the reality genre (“Teen Mom,” “Catfish: The TV Show”) to scripted shows (“Awkward,” “Teen Wolf”).
Over at Bravo, back in 2007, the network noticed its online after-show that interviewed eliminated “Top Chef” contestants got big traffic. Eventually, the network decided to experiment on TV with viewers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for the “Real Housewives” franchise. Bravo teamed up with Davies’s production company for an after-show called “Watch What Happens: Live.” They tapped development exec Andy Cohen to dissect “Housewives” episodes and interview cast members about what really happened on camera.
The low-key series, set in a clubhouse stocked with booze that aided wild interviews and silly games, wound up being a hit – especially given that the no-frills show was inexpensive to produce. “It was relatively easy for us to keep it on the air, even as we were building the audience,” said Jerry Leo, Bravo’s senior vice president of program strategy and acquisitions. “It came of age the same time TV got more social.” Online engagement spiked. Last year, the series transformed into a full-fledged nightly talk show, with guests such as Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey.
Other networks caught on, looking for ways to keep viewers involved. Lifetime’s “Project Runway” tried out “After the Runway.” This summer, TLC announced a two-part after-show, “Breaking Amish: Brave New World: The Shunning Truth,” that would offer more insight into the cast members. TruTV’s “Impractical Jokers” recently debuted “Jokers After Party,” showing outtakes of pranks.
Some shows don’t naturally lend themselves to after-shows but wind up working surprisingly well. Discovery found a hit with male-skewing “Gold Rush,” so it decided to continue the conversation with “The Dirt.” It started online, hosted by executive producer Christo Doyle, but Discovery re-packaged it on TV. Now, it serves as a pre-game warm-up to “Gold Rush,” which is airing a limited South Africa edition this summer.
The show’s miners may not have as much drama as the “Real Housewives,” Doyle said, but there are still many intriguing behind-the-scenes questions to answer. “On ‘Gold Rush,’ you’re not going to find out how these guys are doing laundry, getting groceries, how difficult life is” while mining in remote areas of the world, Doyle said. “We’re doing that on ‘The Dirt’ . . . we’re constantly trying to connect with the viewers.”
Audiences seem to be responding, as a decent number of viewers tend to stay put. This spring’s “Walking Dead” finale had about 12.4 million viewers; 5 million stuck around for “Talking Dead.” Last week’s “Shark After Dark” saw 2 million viewers tune in for the debut episode, a little less than half of the people who watched the Shark Week premiere special. Bravo sees “Watch What Happens: Live” viewership increase by about 28 percent if the show has a “Bravolebrity” featured on a network show earlier that night.
It gives executives comfort to know that despite streaming Facebook and Twitter feeds, people still want to connect with a person — even if it’s through a TV screen. “There’s still no replacement for the glow of the campfire experience, the TV experience,” said Colin Helms, MTV’s senior vice president of connected content. “We know [our viewers] are multitaskers and doing all the stuff at the same time . . . but if they have opportunity for the experience with after-show, no-brainer, they’ll stay with it.”