Second Screen and Social Media Audience Interactivity on AMC’s Talking Dead

Curator's Note

Television programming, content accessibility, and audience viewership have radically shifted through recent decades (Amento, 2008; Podrazik, 2009), especially with the advent of social media that allows audience participation. Traditional models of talk shows and audience engagement, like those by Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey, maximized audience interaction through prize giveaways, in-studio comments, and caller questions – modalities that kept the audience separate from the host and guests and confined their interaction in one-sided communication or parasociality (Horton & Wohl, 1956). AMC’s Talking Dead, the companion host program to the wildly-popular, post-apocalyptic, zombie show The Walking Dead, includes fan engagement through real-time Twitter and Facebook posts, blogs, emails, contests, online polling, and other websites, with show host Chris Hardwick and guests. We call this contemporary model of television engagement ‘technoprosociality’ (Pasztor & Korn, 2015). Talking Dead is a pioneer in second-screen talk show modality. The live studio audience is not forgotten in this model: they are called to the ‘stage’ by Hardwick who quips with them as they direct a question to his guests, which frequently include actors, directors, producers, and writers from The Walking Dead, as well as celebrity fans, like Aisha Tyler, Yvette Nicole Brown, Mindy Kaling, Marilyn Manson, and Conan O’Brien. At the same time, online/at-home audiences tweet, post to Facebook, vote in polls, call in, Skype questions, and upload videos. Fans and celebrities/guests happily commingle across traditionally-insurmountable barriers that used to separate the audience from celebrities. Set design strategically and effectively echoes the sentiment of intimacy through muted colors, a minibar, comfy couches, and a distressed coffee table. As Hardwick says at the end of season two, “We’re through, people,” implying a sense that the actors/characters, audience, fans, celebrities, and host have jointly survived the apocalyptic landscape. The business model of corporate sponsorship has shifted accordingly to accommodate technoprosociality. The Lincoln Motor Company and Hyundai sponsor “In Memoriam” (characters that have died in that night’s episode) and “Fan of the Week” (a picture of a fan who has ‘zombified’ themselves). Studio audiences receive giveways like survival kits and character memorabilia. Fans may customize online holiday cards (Valentine’s Day) via apps on iTunes (another sponsor). Maximizing social media and second-screen makes technoprosociality the model of the future media industry.

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