Genial technology commentator Leo Laporte used to be an employee of ZDTV, later called TechTV, but when TechTV was merged into the G4 network it dispensed with Laporte's kind of programming and he left the network.
He started a podcast, "This Week In Tech," which turned into a whole network of podcasts, the TWIT network. You can download the podcasts at http://twit.tv, or watch them live at http://live.twit.tv, including the casual conversation before and after the show, which is often the best part.
At about 5 p.m. Sunday, Laporte will lead a sidewalk parade from what has been known as the "TWIT Cottage," his cramped studio in Petaluma, Calif., down the street to a sleek new HDTV studio which will be the network's new home base, and the flagship "This Week In Tech" will be the first show telecast from the new facility. The network will continue to offer its shows free in standard definition but will sell a high-def stream to those who are interested.
It's a mark of how the TV world is changing. By network TV standards, even Laporte's spiffy new studio is ridiculously cheap, and yet he produces high-quality content for a loyal audience and is successfully building a base of prominent national advertisers. And he no longer has to do battle with network executives; he's his own network.
And he's not the only one.
Phil Vischer, the creator of the "VeggieTales" CGI Bible story videos, lost control of his company Big Idea Productions some years back, a process which he documented in the frank, self-searching memoir "Me, Myself and Bob." (The title refers to Bob the Tomato, a VeggieTales character voiced by Vischer.) But now, Vischer has his own online network, JellyTelly ( http://jellytelly.com ), offering original, faith-based children's programming in partnership with Focus On The Family.
One of my all-time favorite TV shows, "Mystery Science Theater 3000," featured bad movies accompanied by snarky commentary from a host and two robots silhouetted on the lower right corner of the TV screen. The show, known to fans as MST3K, started on local Minneapolis television, then ran for seven seasons on Comedy Central and three seasons on SciFi (now SyFy) before being cancelled.
But there are still plenty of movies in need of snark. Two separate groups of MST3K alumni continue to produce MST3K-like programming which they sell over the Internet. MST3K creator and original host Joel Hodgson and the cast members who moved to the West Coast in search of Hollywood success have "Cinematic Titanic" ( http://cinematictitanic.com ), selling DVDs and performing live shows.
The show's second host, Mike Nelson, and two of his castmates who stayed in Minneapolis have "RiffTrax" ( http://rifftrax.com ). They make fun of newer movies available on DVD. You buy or rent the DVD yourself, and then you purchase and download the RiffTrax audio commentary from their web site. Using a computer or an MP3 player, you play the commentary in synch with the movie. The RiffTrax crew also does occasional live shows, some of them based at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, which are simulcast to theaters across the country. RiffTrax will lampoon a movie called "Jack The Giant Killer" on Aug. 17 at the Belcourt.
The Internet is making it easier for worthwhile content to bypass the gatekeepers and for creative people to start their own enterprises. But in the end, you have to have quality in order to keep an audience. Creators like Laporte, Vischer, Hodgson and Nelson know their audiences and have been successful at providing content through the new avenues made possible by technology.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.