Although it may seem anecdotally true, G4TV in fact does NOT air continual repeats of Cops and Campus PD as its sole source of programming. Sure, it might seem that way were you to channel surf past it several times in a couch potato session. While not all of these programs are what you might call “good,” or even at times “passable,” there are two programs at the heart of G4’s schedule that speak to its ostensible core demographic. But oddly enough, these two programs often call into question the very nature of their existence on television at all. Attack of the Show! (AOTS) and X-Play are still both entertaining after all these years, but they primarily produce content that’s perhaps best served up online.
Again, we’re talking about distribution, not content, in terms of looking at the odd space both shows currently inhabit. Both have a decently long history, each clocking in over one thousand episodes apiece. (Take that, Rubicon!) AOTS started out in 2005 as a replacement for The Screen Savers, with X-Play starting out originally in 1998 as GameSpot TV on ZDTV, transformed into Extended Play when the network changed its moniker to TechTV, and then served as the only show to survive the G4TV/TechTV merger in May 2004. That’s a long, long time for Adam Sessler to crack wise about the Naruto franchise, people. BELIEVE IT.
Both have familiar rhythms that are replicated on an episode-by-episode basis. AOTS is a live show that airs four times a week, while X-Play airs taped episodes thrice weekly. Both shows have seen their production schedule lessen over the last few years, which speaks to the threadbare budgets with which both programs work. AOTS in particular embraces its shortcomings by emphasizing attitude, taking advantage of its live nature to marry a nerd-centric news magazine with the energy of an improvised comedy show. Its live nature is its biggest hook and greatest flaw: when it’s clicking, it has an energy all its own. When it doesn’t—well, that’s some TrainwreckTV right there.
New to hosting duties this year on AOTS aside long-time co-anchor Kevin Pereira is Candace Bailey, who replaced Olivia Munn in January of this year. Yes, the very mention of the name “Olivia Munn” is likely to send the interwebs into palpitations (good and bad), but it’s to Bailey’s credit that she doesn’t ever seek to ape Munn’s hosting style. Whereas Munn often tried to out-Pereira Pereira in terms of raunchiness, Bailey takes a sunnier, yet still strong, approach in her role as foil to Kevin’s antics. With Pereira on vacation this week, Bailey definitely stood out versus guests hosts such as Sara Underwood and Blair Herter, both of whom seemed unsure of themselves during the live broadcast. Something like “looking in the correct camera” seems damn easy—until you see people utterly fail at doing so.
Format-wise, little has changed with Bailey’s addition. Each weeknight’s episode adopts the same format, with certain segments such as “Around The Web” a staple at the top of the hour, “The Feed” in the middle, and some epically awkward/painful clip ending the hour in a moment of anti-zen. Sprinkled throughout the rest of the hour lies whatever segment AOTS could produce in time for that episode: an interview with MMA referee “Big” John McCarthy, Chris Gore’s weekly movie reviews on “DVDuesday,” and, of course, a taped report from the World Naked Bike Ride. Like ya do.
What would be obvious even if you didn’t visit G4’s website is that this show is built around short, embeddable clips that are best absorbed independent of one another. Watching both AOTS and X-Play live is a challenging task, due to the sheer amount of commercials aired in order to fill up the requisite amount of programming time. In my calculations, nearly half of the running time for a typical hour-long AOTS was populated by commercials. The thirty-minute X-Play rarely produced more than 19 minutes of actual show. That’s a lot of bill-paying getting in the way of unique content. But when G4 puts up each AOTS the following day as a series of five-minute segments from which you can pick and choose, the model suddenly makes a lot more sense. The television show is essentially producing content that truly excels when seen online. And given the demographic of those watching, it’s probably a smart move to distribute it to those people in as many ways as possible. But as intelligent a move as it is, it doesn’t make those viewers watching live on television feel like they are getting the optimal experience.
Oddly enough, X-Play benefits more from a single, continuous viewing than AOTS. X-Play should be a show that suffers more from the televised format than AOTS. While gaming sites certainly existed in the TechTV days, their massive proliferation and popularity pose a problem for X-Play in the current market. Essentially, X-Play runs the risk of being the equivalent of a monthly periodical in the face of websites that post 20-30 pieces of new content daily, replete with pictorial and video footage. What’s the compulsion to watch X-Play if you’ve already seen everything online in your cubicle before getting home?
X-Play’s main hook lies in its expert writing, which shines through in pre-produced segments and often carries its continuity across an entire episode. When it’s just Sessler and cohost Morgan Webb riffing in-studio, the results are hit and miss. But when overdubbed atop game footage, or employed through charmingly cheap sketches, then the show gives gamers something they can’t get from another source. Sure, plenty of gamer sites feature humor, sarcasm, and snark. But X-Play has really honed its skill at producing game reviews that actually interact with game footage in an entertaining way. While positive game reviews give clear reasons for a high grade, it’s the poor reviews that produce the greatest amusement for the audience. Culling dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of gameplay into a short video review must be painstaking work, but it often works like gangbusters.
Here’s the problem right now for X-Play: it doesn’t have nearly enough of its writing prowess on display lately. One would think reducing the weekly load to three episodes would concentrate original content. But instead, it’s pushed said content off to the side in favor of puff pieces that give them segments to air but actually take the air out of the show. Case in point: There are only so many interviews of gaming figures such as Cliff Bleszinski, Ken Levine, and Tim Schafer that a mortal can stand before flipping out. A single interview often spreads out to five to six episodes, which is great publicity for these designers but often overkill for the audience.
Atop of that, X-Play has a tendency to show every bit of developer video that gets released, showing it without much context and with even lesser insight. When X-Play gets hold of a game, and has ample time to play through it, the reviews are well-constructed and well-reasoned. When it’s simply passing on video provided by a publisher, it tends to turn into a PR snooze. (Thus sayeth the man who really never, ever needs to see how tanks work in Battlefield 3 again. Honestly. Just. Stop. It.) One preview of Dead Island featured Sessler essentially trying to guess what the hell he was looking at onscreen. Now, in the cases of both the interviews and the development footage, X-Play has a pretty rigid editorial policy in which their reviews aren’t affected by access. So it’s not as if you’re watching them be bought with footage of another multiplayer map. But that doesn’t make those segments any less fun to get through.
Then again, this format could be intentional, if slightly misguided. Just as the show itself has morphed across multiple networks and multiple names, so too has gaming journalism itself morphed. While there’s been a sharp decrease in skits, sketches, and recurring characters over the last few years, X-Play’s hardcore gaming analysis has simply shifted online. Vodcasts such as “Sessler’s Soapbox,” “The MMO Report,” and “Feedback” have supplanted the void, which is only a void if you consider television to be the sole format through which you can obtain G4 content. (AOTS has several fill-in vodcasts as well, notably Blair Butler’s “Fresh Ink Online”.) Losing “Drunk Link” segments is a slight shame, but one that’s easily overcome. But getting 45 minutes of videogame wonkiness on “Feedback” is actually an improvement, often, over two-minute segments on X-Play. The editorial wit may be lost, but what’s missing in terms of flash is easily made up for in substance. In other words, X-Play isn’t seen as the be all and end all of videogame coverage for the network. It’s simply the televised arm of the entire gaming body.
It will be interesting to see how both shows adopt and change further as television itself becomes more fragmented, and the word “television” itself changes into an antiquated term that will seem foreign to future generations. While AOTS and X-Play don’t always work as television programs, they are certainly better poised than most to take advantage of an increasingly decentralized way to produce content for eager and tech-savvy eyeballs. Until that day comes, they will continue to anchor a network that longs for the day when it no longer has to actually exist in its current form.
- As much as I talked up X-Play’s running gags, the one Monday featuring Blair Herter and an old-timey microphone stand might have been an all-time low for the show. It was supposed to be annoying, yes. But that triple-jumped over that line and made me hate myself.
- The best AOTS segment this week: “Tales From The Console Graveyard,” which combined historical fact with personal anecdotes about the Sega Dreamcast. It was geeky without being exclusionary.
- The “in-studio audience as personal catcall crew” technique didn’t start with AOTS, but Lord, they’ve taken it to 11. Sometimes it’s canned as hell, but the uproarious, unplanned laughter from that crew on Tuesday’s “Feed” segment when a P.A. accidentally ran across the camera was live television gold.
- “That’s the month of Halloween!”
- “Adam! Adam! Adam! I found a gun!”
- “I still hate sports games.”
- “Just so you know: I’m killing everyone in the game.”
- “We’re home for college. Let’s have a great time!”
- “Less gas, more ass!
- “It’s like a big anus!”
- “Don’t be a bitch, cameraman! Let’s keep going!”
- “She was super flammable. So it was easy.”
- “Whoa: You just got totally transported!”
- “Heh. You were looking for sailors.”