The #HashtagWar is over: Chris Hardwick’s ‘@midnight’ has logged off for good

Chris Hardwick at "Comedy Central's @midnight Live" in 2016.
Image: Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW

“Best job I ever had.”

#AtMidnightIn5Words was the prompt, and after a dozen or so quick-fire quips from regular guests like Colton Dunn (“One black at a time”) and Whitney Cummings (“One woman at a time”), show host Chris Hardwick reminded the audience in its series finale that Comedy Centrals @midnight transformed careers, late night, and the internet itself in its four-year run.

The show that started with a Funny or Die concept bringing Twitter to television deviated from that original pitch, but kept at its core an ingrained interdependence with social media. On the surface, @midnight is a game show where Hardwick awards meaningless points to three comedians or Muppets, or politicians, or Kenny G who joke about the myriad idiot things happening on the internet each day.

But while some subjects were unavoidable Cash me ousside, Harambe (#RIP), that damn dress the diligent research team on @midnight plumbed the nether regions of the world wide web to introduce hilariously stupid memes (and cat videos) to new audiences nightly. It was that symbiotic relationship with the internet the name of the show is its Twitter handle, after all which created a feedback loop of content that remained fresh for 600 episodes.

As Hardwick noted in Friday night’s finale, @midnights #HashtagWar du jour trended every night the show was on air, usually besting other vitally important subjects like #sports or #WhateverTrumpIsTweetingAbout.

For a TV show to dominate social media trends was the fever dream of every network head just a few years ago

Followers were lost and gained as Twitter users obsessively filled their timelines with nightly pun battles. And the segment spawned imitators like @HashtagRoundup, which culls games from partner accounts, promotes popular comedy hashtags, and runs an entire app just for serious hashtag gamers to battle each other. For a television show, or any product, to so thoroughly dominate social media trends was the fever dream of every network head just a few short years ago.

Whats been different about the @midnight formula, Hardwick told me just after the shows first series extension in 2014, is that essential and inextricable interaction with fans.

“Social media doesnt work well when youre just promoting at it,” he said. “Its a system, and you have to keep replenishing the system. And sometimes that means adding things to it that dont promote you, that youre just sharing with the world.”

The result has been two consecutive Emmy wins for the series in a category seemingly designed for it: Social TV Experience.

Social media wasnt the only thing to change since @midnight premiered in October 2013. As Hardwick has reiterated since its inception, the shows subtextual goal was to get more comedians on Comedy Central. This seems like a simple premise, but its an altogether challenging one.

Throughout the shows run, Hardwick made a point of sourcing underexposed talent and giving them a spotlight. Marcella Arguello, one of the finales 34 special guests, gave props to Hardwick for recognizing her talent at an improv show, booking her on @midnight, getting her a manager, and altogether exploding her career. And while Ron Funches joked that every project hes attached to gets unceremoniously, prematurely killed, he thanked @midnight for raising his profile enough to be cast at all.

That leaves Hardwick, without whose unfaltering energy and unapologetic nerdiness @midnight may not have succeeded. Friday night’s audience, made up entirely of close friends and family of the shows 125 staff and crew (and one interloping reporter), have been some of Hardwicks most enduring and diehard fans. Not the least of whom is Hardwicks mom, Sharon Hills, herself now an internet celebrity and who recently suggested on Twitter that the decision to end @midnight was not mutual.

But the reality is that 600 is a lot of episodes, and Chris Hardwick is a busy man these days Talking Dead, Talking Saul, Talking Preacher and just plain Talking with Chris Hardwick seem to fill half of AMCs lineup, not to mention hosting duties for NBCs The Wall and surprise appearances on Americas Got Talent, Live! with Kelly and myriad other places.

Comedy Central president Kent Alterman, who was in attendance at Wednesdays finale taping, got a special shout out from Hardwick before the ultimate winner of the internet was announced, and the exec described the shows conclusion as bittersweet.

Bittersweet, perhaps, because the very show that helped catapult Hardwick into giddy ubiquity comes to an end, chock full of fart and dick jokes as ever. And, as the man himself says, the internet will go on.

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