May 20, 2020
Watch out Kimmel and Colbert, Animal Talking has become one of the hottest late-night talk shows this year.
Screenwriter and gaming journalist Gary Whitta is the creator and host of Animal Talking, a live stream that takes place entirely in the Nintendo Switch video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. He told Cheddar there wasn't a push for him to get a virtual show running; it happened rather organically since he likes the game.
"I call myself an accidental talk show host, none of this was ever really supposed to happen," Whitta told Cheddar Tuesday. "This was not supposed to be my job. This is just a hobby that kind of got out of control and now it's the thing that's preventing me from doing my actual job because it's taken up so much time."
Animal Crossing is a life simulation game where players build up a town, infrastructure, and home on a colorful deserted island that can then be shared with other players online. The platform allows the show to offer something others don’t amid the pandemic: in-person guests — sort of.
Episodes feature monologues, guests, musical performances, and a set. So far, real-life stars on the virtual show have included T-Pain, Danny Trejo, and Elijah Wood.
"T-Pain pretty much took over the entire show. It was a complete train wreck in the most delightful way,” the show's creator said.
The hype is real around Animal Talking. The Verge dubbed it as 2020’s hottest late-night talk show, and it has been featured on the front page of Twitch three times so far.
“I think our last show got about 350,000 viewers. It's really crazy," Whitta said. “We're actually the only talk show out there right now that looks like a real talk show because we are not in the real world, we're inside this virtual space."
Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced sets to shut down in the interest of safety, the television industry has had to rethink the way it creates shows. For many, that has meant a transition to virtual and remote production. Hosts are Skyping into shows and prompters are being run by iPhones.
Animal Talking is different. Live guests don’t have to obey social distancing measures in the virtual game. Guests are able to 'sit' on Whitta’s couch and talk 'face-to-face'.
Before his surprise virtual success, Whitta already had some Hollywood cred from his work as a screenwriter on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Now that he’s not working in the franchise anymore, he’s just a fan.
"Star Wars for me is first and foremost a theatrical, cinema property. You know it's great to see it in video games and TV and other things, but come on — the movies first and foremost. That's where they started. I think that's what people will always think of as Star Wars more than anything else. So I'll be really excited to see what the next big movie they announce is,” Whitta concluded.
Disney announced earlier this month that Taika Waititi, director of Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit, will be directing and co-writing a new film in the Star Wars franchise.