Screenwriter Gary Whitta is known for a number of movie and game credits including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Telltale's The Walking Dead, but these days he's also known for something he probably never expected: a talk show that's recorded from within Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
What started out as an effort to build the Animal Crossing basement of his dreams - inspired by his favorite American talk shows - has turned into a fully-featured talk show with lights, cameras, and big-name celebrities. The only difference from a TV network's talk show is that this one airs on Twitch and YouTube and can be done without any actual physical contact.
"We started six days ago as a bit of fun, and now I'm struggling to keep up," Whitta told me over the phone. "We started out pretending to make a talk show, and now we're making a talk show."
The prolific screenwriter and former games journalist (Whitta was editor-in-chief of our sister site PC Gamer) wasn't born in the US, but over two decades living in the states he's developed a palpable love of classic talk shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Larry Sanders show.
Once he discovered the breadth of available items and customization options in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, he went to work making his basement a talk show set with nods to his favorite hosts. There's a golf bag on set referencing Johnny Carson's trademark "golf swing" monologue move, and potted plants dress the set as a tribute to Artie's (played by Rip Torn) love of plants and flowers.
Things escalated quickly from there, and soon enough Whitta invited actress Naomi Kyle to "play dress-up" and stage a talk show. Since that first show less than a week ago, Animal Talking has brought on guests including actress Felicia Day, comedian Mike Drucker, and Whitta's lovely wife Leah. The fourth episode of the show was watched by over 12,000 viewers and was number 14 on Twitch's most-watched streams that day.
Reactions from fans have been overwhelmingly positive, too. In fact, Whitta figures the reaction to Animal Talking has been "arguably the best reaction I've ever had to anything I've ever done," which is a remarkable thing to say for someone who wrote a Star Wars movie.
And yet despite the runaway success, Whitta's aspirations for the show are the same as when it started: to cheer people up. "I'm incredibly gratified by the fact that this thing has been received how it has been. I just wanted to mess around in my basement and have fun, but it seems to have resonated in a way I couldn't have imagined. It's made a lot of people happy, including me, my wife, and people who work on the show," Whitta says. "As someone in the creative arts, that's why I get up in the morning."
As for what's next, Whitta says it's hard to tell. "It'll last for as long as it lasts. This is not a business enterprise," he says. When I asked him if he had any fantasy guests for the show, Whitta didn't hesitate. "Reggie," he replied, referencing former Nintendo of America boss Reggis Fils-Aime.
And lucky for Whitta (and us viewers), Fils-Aime has already publically expressed interest in appearing on the show. It seems New Horizons' gift-bearing balloon-filled sky is the limit for Gary Whitta's Animal Talking.
Until the next show, here's everything we know about Animal Crossing: New Horizons' May Day event.