TV Goes Back to Audio: Why Recap Podcasts Are As Popular As Their Counterpart Shows
Welcome to the realm of post-show discussions, a no holds barred dissection of dialogue, symbols, tropes and what-have-yous that are designed to fill in the hours between one episode to the next
In the same tradition as post-game recaps of various sports like basketball or football, television recaps have become a must in popular culture. Call it our inability to let go — or perhaps just a burning need to connect with the narrative — the fact still remains that as soon as our favorite show drops a bomb that explodes the plot, or leaves us a cliffhanger at the season finale, we are immediately consumed by a desire to talk to someone about it.
In the wake of a character’s devastating death, or a potential relationship blooming between two unlikely protagonists, our fixation builds up to a point that makes us wonder: Surely there’s someone else out there that we can talk to about this? What does it all mean? How can we go on from here?
Just Can’t Get Enough
Welcome to the realm of post-show discussions, a no holds barred dissection of dialogue, symbols, tropes and what-have-yous that are designed to fill in the hours between one episode to the next. Unlike film or TV reviews, which mostly serve as gauges on whether we would want to watch something or not, recaps exist so we can talk about what happened. The Chicago Tribune elaborates further on the distinction (since it is also prevalent in print):
“In the old media world, writers were expected to tell readers what they didn’t know. In the current, online-dominated one, writers often gain more traction telling readers what they already do.”
Television Without Pity is said to have started this online phenomenon back in the late 1990s when it started recapping Dawson’s Creek. Fast forward to today, where it has evidently evolved to three mainstream forms: TV shows, YouTube videos, and podcasts.
In terms of TV, the most popular recap show at the moment is arguably Talking Dead, which airs immediately after an episode of The Walking Dead. Hosted by Chris Hardwick, guest stars come to have a chat, complete with an “In Memoriam” segment that lists characters who died, as well as quick quizzes to test how much you remember. Sometimes the guests are the actors who had been on the show, but mostly it is other celebrities who are just plain geeking out and are fans, too — same as us — and wants to talk about the nuances of the episode.
YouTube has also seen a growth of channels being created simply to recap their favorite shows. One of the most popular is AfterBuzz TV, conceived by Maria Menounos, a host at E!, and producer Keven Undergaro. Created at first just to have somewhere to discuss their favorite show, Breaking Bad, it has since grown into an online broadcast network producing recaps for more than 60 TV shows, with over 20 million downloads a week spanning 200 countries.
TV for Your Ears
What’s interesting is that AfterBuzz began as a podcast. When its audience grew, cameras were added to the production and soon they are covering and distributing the same content to both forms. Aside from YouTube, it is syndicated via iTunes and platforms such as Audioboom (AIM:BOOM), a website dedicated to the spoken word.
It also hosts other fan-favorite shows, such as Game of Thrones, which has spawned podcasts like Boars, Gore, and Swords and A Pod of Casts. Even shows like Fargo, which aired for the first time last year and has a limited number of episodes, were so highly anticipated that it also got its own “unofficial” recaps from seasoned podcasters like Bald Move.
But why the obsession? Why are we willing to listen to hours more than the show itself, to people we don’t even know (though we listen to them so much they are almost our friends) talking about something that in the larger scheme of things won’t really matter? The Wall Street Journal posits an explanation: “…the rise of recaps has most to do with the transformation of the TV audience at large. Not only are viewers more inclined to sound off online about the minutiae of their favorite shows, many are also looking for insights about a growing number of serial dramas with complex and sophisticated storytelling.”
One thing is for sure: These recaps serve as fixed point in a changing world. Shows may die after the pilot episode, not get renewed for another season (screw you NBC, for what you did to Community), come to an exhilarating end, or simply get lost in the lineup — but discussions about them will immortalize the experience. It’s shared recognition, a kind of communal moment that reassures viewers: Yes, we’ve seen it, too; come pull up a chair and let’s talk.