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Looking Back At G4 And What The Future May Hold

By now you may have heard the news that G4, the first cable channel catered directly to gamers, will soon be a thing of the past.  While the plug hasn’t been pulled on G4 overnight, NBC (the parent company of G4) has announced that the channel will go through a major rebranding and in turn will cease to be as it is today. This news may not be that surprising since G4 has been in the dumps for years and in turn such a thing may be cause for celebration as we could receive the video game channel we deserve to have.

With a rebranding that’s meant to “sophisticated” I don’t know if G4 will be able to have its phoenix moment just yet or if the channel will simply dig a deeper hole for themselves. So with the news of G4’s demise and soon to be resurrection I thought it would be nice to go down memory lane to recount the glory the channel once had and what made it go astray so much so that gamers stopped watching the network in droves.

The first time I watched G4, or as it was then known as G4TV, is a moment that is still etched in my memory.  It was July 2002 and upon returning home from the not so pleasant thing that is Summer school, sophomore year in High-School wasn’t that great for me, I had two things to do: either play the sci-fi FPS masterpiece that was Red Faction on my PS2 or sit around the house and watch TV. I know that my options may not have been that great since I could’ve gone out and enjoyed the weather, but I was in optimum couch potato mode back then thus I decided to stay in and see what I could watch on the 500 or so cable channels I had.  

After doing a bit of channel surfing I came across something that immediately blew my mind: G4TV.  I had heard of the channel briefly through a few gaming magazines and of course being a huge gamer I immediately wished that my cable provider would pick the network up.  A few months went by since G4TV made its debut and alas it was nowhere to be seen on my service. Once I saw that my cable service picked G4TV up I literally wanted to do a celebratory back flip since I was beyond happy.  It may sound like I was a bit too excited back then but you have to understand that in 2002 it wasn’t really possible to get in-depth gaming coverage of a video variety or see game footage whenever you wanted. Yes, there were a few popular gaming sites out there such as IGN, Gamespot, and even Gamespy, but they weren’t as video focused back then as they are today.  

So after finally finding G4TV on my cable provider I then decided to watch the channel for the next eight hours. Seriously, I watched every possible show G4TV had to offer at that time starting off with the news centric show Pulse in which I became smitten with co-host Ronilyn Riley, and then I proceeded to watch instant classics such as the Tommy Tallarico/Victor Lucas reviews show Judgment Day.  

For its time G4TV was a solid channel. That certainly may be hard to believe now based on the state of things in the last few years, but when it first came on the channel was basically a gamers dream. With shows that covered specific genres of gaming such as the action centric show Blister, the industry documentary series Icons, and the game footage extravaganza that was Cinematech G4TV had it all despite suffering from the standard channel issue of having tons of repeats due to being new.  What was more impressive was that the on-air talent was a nice mixture of TV personalities (people who were merely hired to talk about games such as a former MTV reality show star), and those who had intense passion for the medium.  Such passion was evident on the aptly named G4TV.com which included channel co-founder Scot Rubin taking live calls from viewers and chatting about games in an honest fashion, sometimes even bashing things.

Eventually like any great power or thing in the world G4TV started to fall down an ever constant slope once the channel merged with the competing TechTV. While not entirely video game focused, TechTV was more of a channel for a wider audience as it covered more PC and general tech elements compared to funneling its focus solely on gaming.  Having some extra talent on G4TV should’ve been nice via the TechTV merger, but in the end it simply ended up cannibalizing talent and even saw a few classic shows be cut on both sides.  This was only the beginning of the end for G4TV as the channel eventually moved away from its gaming specific nature to do what no one wanted in the first place: be a network for guys i.e. dudebros and frat boys.

Going from one thing to another can be fine in some cases but in the case of G4 it was one of the worst decisions ever made as it led to the channel being a shell of its former shelf.  Instead of shows like Judgment Day, Icons, or even the multiplayer/e-sports based Arena we were treated to mass reruns of Cops, Cheaters, and whatever else NBC had laying around.  Perhaps by the time G4 changed it didn’t matter since more video coverage was becoming prominent on the key gaming sites and it was no longer an ultra-special thing to see a clip from Spyro or Halo since people could go on YouTube at any time and watch a bazillion videos.  Adapting the channel to fit the advances in the industry and desires of gamers would’ve been one thing but making it the place where old TV shows and movies go to die was something that didn’t sit well with longtime viewers of the channel.

Even with a few key personalities still at the channel such as Kevin Pereira, Adam Sessler, and Morgan Webb, G4 essentially became a joke amongst gamers.  With the occasional coverage of a mega-event such as E3 or the San Diego Comic Con, which again could be seen online in greater detail, the channel had nothing to offer besides being the home of the ever amusing show that is Ninja Warrior.  Other than offering that exceptional showcase of physical strength to viewers in North America, G4 essentially became useless unless you simply wanted to gawk at average looking former Playboy Playmates recite gaming news without looking completely confused or flustered as they read the teleprompter.

With how the network declined in quality over the last few years and how it was even dropped by DirecTV it shouldn’t be too surprising that the channel is finally receiving a rebranding. Maybe it would be easier to simply close up shop completely, but I’m sure the number crunchers at NBC have found some value in keeping the channel afloat while running it at a bare minimum.  We may still be early in G4’s soon to be rebranding as such a thing was mentioned only hours ago, but it is interesting to see what sort of direction the channel will go in.  With the appeal of the network said to be going from a guy’s guy channel with a dorm room vibe to one akin to the sophistication of GQ magazine, I really don’t know what to think or what the final product will be like.

After being inundated with the cheap and often immature humor that goes along with a channel aimed towards men I’m personally happy that such a thing is being thrown in the bin but what kind of sophistication well we get with the new G4?  Will the channel simply play host to a bunch of guys with well-trimmed mustaches and thick framed glasses talking about games and technology in addition to the “mandatory” cute yet clueless female co-host or will we have a channel that actually knows what it’s talking about?  Imagining what a sophisticated GQ inspired tech channel can be is somewhat hard since we really don’t have any major examples except for the Verge, which I shudder to think what would be like as a 24/7 cable channel.  

Upping the level of intelligence on G4 would be a welcomed thing as gamers aren’t all dudebros and instead are intelligent people who cover a wide range of demographics. Having a channel that caters to those demographics in an insightful way could result in an awesome channel that finally sees G4 return to its glory days, but I think the last thing people want is more fakeness or hosts that simply talk down to us since they need to appeal to a wide audience.  Having a tech/gaming focused channel may still seem like a futile cause since these days coverage of such a thing can be seen from a variety of sources, including yours truly Shogun Gamer, and at any given time via the omnipresence of smartphones/tablet devices.  Perhaps the new G4 will acknowledge that in some form, better so than G4’s current web presence, but in the end I think having a tech focused channel could be good since it’ll simply expand the medium of gaming/technology and perhaps continue to tear down some long standing stereotypes. For the last few years G4 may not have been a good ambassador of sorts to the general public as a show featuring the late Ryan Dunn and a possible Epic Meal Time series exactly aren’t the two things people think first when they think gaming/tech, but spreading the reach of games in a way that isn’t seen from the somewhat closed minds of the mainstream press could be good as it’ll grow our medium.  

Having a major cable channel cover games/tech likely won’t result in the same deep coverage we’re used to seeing from gaming sites that produce daily/weekly video content, but even without that niche or core edge I am optimistic that the end product could be good since GameTrailers TV has done an admirable job over the years at providing content that core gamers are interested in while appealing to a broad audience – all while not coming across as too dumbed down. In a perfect universe the redux G4 would play host to televised events such as EVO or even MLG, but gamers may just need to realize that to a corporation as massive as NBC it simply isn't appealing to them in the financial department thus we’ll still have to stream the finals of a fighting game tournament on our laptops for the new few years.

The news of G4’s sudden death may be uneventful in a sense, but it will be a bit sad to see the channel go. I know that for the last five years G4 has basically had some gamers/viewers in an abusive relationship due to those not wanting to leave despite however dreadful some of the material may have been, but now we’re actually on the cusp of seeing G4 return to what it once was or at least receive a newly named channel surface to give us another source for tech/gaming news.  Maybe it’s too little too late at this point, but for once I’m optimistic about what G4 could become as long as it’s not a hybrid of the pseudo hipster site that is the Verge combined with Kotaku.  For now the only real dilemma I face in the wake of G4’s rebranding is how I’ll watch Ninja Warrior without having to illegally download it.