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Tearful host's 'Talking Dead' return divides viewers

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In the court of public opinion, the jury is hung in the case of Chris Hardwick, who returned to host Talking Dead  on Sunday after AMC completed a sexual abuse investigation.

Hardwick was suspended from his talk shows and removed from panels at San Diego Comic-Con after ex-girlfriend Chloe Dykstra leveled emotional and sexual abuse allegations against him. In a controversial move, AMC cleared the comedian of wrongdoing in a statement last month and reinstated him to his posts on The Walking Dead’s and Fear the Walking Dead’s wrap-up programs.

On his first show back, Hardwick got emotional while addressing fans and supporters: “I really just want to take a minute and I want to say that I’m so appreciative to be standing here right now. ... This show is not just a job to me, this is a vital part of my life.”

Chris Hardwick at a live special edition of Talking Dead in 2016. (Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

His tearful return and appearances on NBC’s America’s Got Talent and The Wall have Yahoo readers split, navigating the gray area between two very different narratives in the #MeToo era.

Several readers made it clear they’d sided with Hardwick from the very beginning. “Those that made the mistake of firing him should be fired...with their supporters,” one fan said in the comments section of the original Yahoo Entertainment article. “Liberal witch hunt failed this time, good,” another reader said, welcoming Hardwick back to the entertainment world.

Some took the spectacle as a victory for “wrongly accused men everywhere,” while others worried about the accuser’s lasting impact on Hardwick’s mental health: “Those who never been accused don’t understand the emotional damage to self and family,” one commenter wrote. “[Purportedly false allegations do] nothing but make men and women suspicious and fearful of one another,” another said.

Many of the Nerdist founder’s fans took to Twitter to celebrate Hardwick’s return to Talking Dead, which ran in the interim under host Yvette Nicole Brown.

“Chris Hardwick has had tears in his eyes during this entire Talking Dead interview,” one Twitter user said. “I just want give him a hug.”

“Mad respect for @hardwick,” another wrote. “Handled this whole situation like a boss. A man of integrity and class.”

One fan was relieved to see Hardwick absolved of any wrongdoing: “Look, the angry mob got this one wrong. One vengeful ex tried to weaponize #MeToo, and, thankfully, it didn’t work. It’s a shame it takes so little to try and ruin someone’s life.”

And another shared an impression of Hardwick that many fans hold: “I always loved Chris Hardwick, and thought he seemed like the nicest guy. I’m glad he’s been proven innocent and is back. Glad to see more of him.”

But fans of Hardwick seemed in the minority on Twitter, where critics called his authenticity into question: “I’ve been to four tapings of #TalkingDead, waited in line for hours and hours and hours. I was a HUGE fan. Chris Hardwick never really acknowledged the audience during breaks, never signed a single autograph. He strikes me as one of the fakest people on TV.”

“Even if I didn’t believe Chloe, which I do, all I need to know about Chris Hardwick is revealed by his leaking texts to TMZ," wrote another. "It was sleazy, it was a violation of privacy, and it’s the sign of a man trying to control a woman. This isn’t something he did. It’s something he is.”

Some wondered whether AMC’s investigation was thorough enough to prove anything: “I have a hard time believing an actual legit investigation into Chris Hardwick turned up empty. #TalkingDead.”

Others pointed out protests by show staff as evidence that there were issues with the results of the investigation: “More than two dozen staff members quit Talking Dead after Chris Hardwick was reinstated,” one commenter said. “What’s that tell you?”

Among those to leave was Hardwick’s female co-executive producer Jen Patton, who had worked with him for nearly five years.

“Shame on @AMC_TV for prioritizing abusers while innocent people need to leave their jobs,” one user wrote on Twitter.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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