Hall H panels at Comic-Con can be painful. The fan Q&As are often mind-numbing, the talent is sometimes like a deer in the headlights and the moderators... well, in the past many moderators are good people who are strong in interview settings but maybe don't have the energy to reach the back of a room that seats 6,500. And when they do have that energy it can be abrasive; a few years ago Access Hollywood's Scott Mantz was wildly boo'ed by the Hall H crowd when he stepped on stage after a day of manic moderating.
This year Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist Network moderated some of the big panels, and he was the best moderator I have seen at Comic-Con since Patton Oswalt, who did the Disney panel a year or so back. What Oswalt and Hardwick have in common is the simple fact that both are performers. Both know how to read a crowd's energy, both know how to interact with an audience and panelists, and both are great at quick-witted, off-the-cuff comments.
Every panel that Hardwick hosted was a blast - funny, informative, and he knew how to deal with the drips and weirdos at the Q&A mic who sometimes make the whole event uncomfortable. What's more, Hardwick was excellent at balancing the attention on himself and the attention given to the panel; while he would make lots of (very good) jokes, the vibe never felt like The Chris Hardwick Show. On top of that, Hardwick is a professional nerd - unlike some other moderators Comic-Con insists on having (there's some radio DJ that has moderated panels for the last few years).
Hardwick, who looks kind of like a long-lost brother of James Gunn, has a spotty history - Singled Out isn't exactly the geekiest thing to have on a resume. And let's not hold Talking Dead against him. But in the last few years he has legitimately built Nerdist from the ground up, successfully merging real geek topics with smart and funny comedians to form an empire of his own. Now it's time for his empire to grow to include regular Comic-Con hosting duties.
We talk about which studios won Hall H at Comic-Con, but for me the only answer is Hardwick. His performance - and the reaction of that crowd to him - cements Nerdist as one of the leaders of geek culture. Next year I hope we see more of him on stage.