Out of all the television networks that our digital cable package would allow, the network that was seemingly tailor-made for me was the only one I was forbidden from watching. I remember the grounding well. I was watching Filter, a “Top 10” show covering various gaming topics, and they ran a segment about the Grand Theft Auto series. They interviewed developers and gaming journalists, the usual suspects, but more importantly gamers themselves. My mom, who happened to be walking through the TV room at that moment, saw it and immediately forbade me from watching the channel ever again.
Of course I watched it anyway. I was a chubby twelve-year-old gamer in a class full of kids who were “too cool” for video games, and I found an entire television network that was devoted to my interests. During a time where being a gamer meant being a social pariah, finding an entire network geared towards gaming culture was like stumbling onto an oasis. I truly didn’t care what my parents thought; I wasn’t going to give that up.
G4’s debut marked the beginning of a golden age for gamers. It was the early 2000s and gaming had just started to crawl into the mainstream. For the longest time people thought of it as a hobby, a pointless waste of time that those quiet kids in the back of class sometimes talked about. The multi-million dollar industry was just starting to make gaming cool again, and leading the effort was G4 on April 24th, 2002. Beginning with a strong line-up of shows, the channel had something for everybody.
First you had Cinematech. The show showcased video game cutscenes and trailers, framing each clip like a piece of modern art. Then you had Cheat (The Pringles Gamer’s Guide)! Hosted by Corey Rouse, the show provided walk-throughs to some of the hardest games, and even showcased various cheat codes inserted by developers. Portal, a sci-fi sketch comedy show written, produced and hosted by Dave Meinstein, focused on online games like Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and Asheron’s Call. Icons, the “Behind the Music” for games, talked about game developers and the histories of various popular game franchises. Tommy Tallarico and Victor Lucas would slug it out (verbally) on Judgment Day, a review show that relied on a lot of debate (and comedy) in its segments. The network brought with it a variety of other shows as well, like Sweat, which focused on sports games, Pulse (which covered the latest in gaming news) and G4TV.com, a gaming and gaming culture talk show. Finally there was Arena. As a precursor to many of the modern e-sports of today, Arena focused on gaming competitions, turning ordinary multiplayer matches into sporting events, and gamers (like the ones who watched) into superstars.
At its height, G4 was perfection. But despite its initial popularity, the network was also very niche. As I’ve said before, at the time of G4’s creation, gaming as a hobby was just starting to become accepted. Public perception that gaming was a hobby only for “nerds” was still in effect, and many of G4’s viewers began to drift back to their gaming hobbies as opposed to watching shows talk about them. The struggle to maintain an audience was very real, and the networks execs had to come up with new ways to maintain their ratings.
Enter TechTV. In a move that was meant to revitalize interest in the network, the two channels merged into G4TechTV on May 28th, 2004. To the dismay of many, much of G4’s original line-up of shows ended up cancelled. In their place were new shows meant to appeal to a wider audience. Gaming programs carried over from TechTV included XPlay and Screen Savers, which ultimately became the two most popular shows by the end of G4’s lifecycle. Other shows from G4’s previous line-up, such as Icons and Filter were completely reworked. Instead of focusing on gaming industry giants or popular game franchises, Icons was now about actors, music festivals and musicians. Filter, once a “Top 10” show about gaming related topics, was now a show geared toward a larger male audience, with topics relating to cars, technology and even food. The next several years saw the network experiment with a wide variety of programming. First there was Anime Unleashed, which played dubs of various shows such as R.O.D. the TV, Gungrave, Geneshaft and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. Re-runs of old Star Trek episodes appeared as Star Trek 2.0, which featured a chatroom overlay for fans to commentate on live. They even started to run late-night movies, with commentary and factoids delivered by Chris Gore, movie afficionado and a recurring guest on Attack of the Show.
This was more of a silver age era compared to the golden years before the merger. While the merger brought with it well received shows that became channel mainstays, G4 had lost a fundamental aspect of what made it great. By moving away from gaming centric programming in a desperate attempt to keep its ratings it lost its soul. This was the beginning of the decline of G4. One by one, studios closed down as network resources had to consolidate to accommodate the ever-increasing lack of viewers. While original shows were still being produced during this period, they never took off. By the time the network had closed down for good, it was completely unrecognizable. In its waning years, the majority of time slots were filled with re-runs of Cops and Cheaters and dubbed episodes of Ninja Warrior. Two of the most prominent shows, XPlay and Attack of the Show (AKA Screen Savers) lasted right until the end.
G4, formerly known as the “TV for Gamers,” was officially shut down on December 31st, 2014. In its place was the Esquire network, a (very) short-lived television network run by Esquire magazine designed to appeal to a “Metrosexual Male” audience. It featured programming surrounding travel, food and fashion, along with re-runs of long-cancelled shows.
Today, many of the channel’s mainstays have found work elsewhere in the tech industry. Adam Sessler, formerly the co-host of XPlay, frequently appears alongside his previous co-host Morgan Webb at gaming events such as E3, though he has begun to branch out into other fields not related to video game journalism. Morgan Webb stayed in the gaming industry. She now works as a producer for Bonfire studios, working alongside a team of talented game developers to create innovative gaming content. Geoff Keighly, G4’s lead E3 presenter, still hosts E3 and gaming awards shows to this day, while periodically working with Fathom to bring yearly Playstation E3 press conferences to movie theaters across the country. Kevin Pereira, the host (and figurehead) of Attack of the Show, now produces a spiritual successor web series known as “The Attack,” and he is the host of Hack My Life on TruTV.
Currently, the station that G4 once had its life on no longer exists. It is a wasteland of static now, floating out in the void between BBC and El Wrey. But, as cheesy as it is to say, even though G4 no longer exists, the spirit of G4 lives on. While G4 wasn’t the first to pioneer e-sports, their dedicated programming brought the idea of gaming as a sport to a much wider audience. Similarly, Star Trek 2.0 could almost be seen as a precursor to modern-day streaming, as it featured live commentary from viewers via chat room.
In 2018, public opinion has pulled a complete 180 on gaming culture. We are now living in a gaming renaissance, where YouTube celebrities have made their careers from the acceptance of gaming as a medium. I’ve always wondered if G4 would have lasted as long as it did if it first aired its shows now, in a world where it’s now “cool” to be invested in electronic media. Some might say that the world wasn’t ready for it. I prefer to think that maybe G4 needed to exist when it did to give the world its push to embrace the cultural phenomenon.