G4 is back. The iconic TV channel made its official return to the air on November 16, both in a traditional cable television format and on Twitch and YouTube.
It’s a return to the airwaves for a channel that went offline in 2014 after a 12-year run on American cable TV. It was arguably at its height in the early 2000s as a primarily gaming-focused channel, with programs like Attack of the Show, X-Play, and American Ninja Warrior, as well as on-air talent that included Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb, and Olivia Munn.
G4 had been teasing a return to the airwaves since July 2020, with Sessler slated to return alongside revivals of Attack of the Show and X-Play. It’s slowly built a new pool of talent since then, which ranges from celebrity gamers like Xavier Woods to online broadcasters such as Gina Darling, Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, Jirard “The Completionist” Khalil, and the virtual YouTuber CodeMiko.
The first new original show on the network, Invitation to Party, focuses on Dungeons & Dragons-style live-play, with B. Dave Walters running adventures for Ify Nwadiwe (Smosh), Fiona Nova (Rooster Teeth’s Achievement Hunter), Froskurinn, and YouTuber Kassem G.
On the day after the network’s official return, I sat down with Brian Terwilliger, G4’s senior vice president of programming and development and a returning behind-the-scenes employee from G4’s original run. We discussed G4’s current game plan, its programming lineup, and how to create a new cable network in 2021.
I assumed that when you said “cable channel,” you meant a traditional 24-7 network. Now it looks like it’s mostly on-demand. How does that work?
Brian Terwilliger: You are not incorrect. The cable channels are programmed as 24/7 linear channels. Twitch and YouTube, every day, is going to be a multihour live experience. Never reruns, never old stuff, fresh uploads every single day.
On linear, traditional cable, that’s where you’re getting the 24/7, warm and fuzzy, just like you remember it, curated and timed programs, specifically for that audience. We are taking different approaches based on the different platforms.
It does seem like you’re trying to split the middle between the on-demand system and the more traditional “appointment TV” sort of deal. How do you arrive at that programming schedule in an increasingly post-cable world?
BT: It’s a great question. I’ll say, what we look like at launch and what we look like 90 days from now, it’s going to evolve. We know that we’re going to learn, we’re going to have feedback across all of our platforms. At the end of the day, we want to be everywhere gamers are. That’s really the story we’re telling through our programming.
For Twitch and YouTube, I mentioned never having a rerun and always being live. The way we look at this, our core thinking for how this crazy Rube Goldberg content flow works, is that our Twitch and YouTube are the daily live studio taping. If you go to the Tonight Show taping, craziness is breaking loose, things break, and someone cursed. That’s OK, because that’s the live environment to us.
Then, for linear and traditional cable, that’s where a more curated approach is really required. Not all of Twitch and YouTube makes for good TV. They have a lot of interactivity, which is great for those digital platforms, but playing out linearly doesn’t quite work.
You saw a lot of this during the pandemic. There were a lot of digital formats just being thrown against the wall. We took that learning and assessment and really baked it into the foundation, of how you get Attack of the Show to work. How can it be true to the digital audience? If we expect an audience to grow with us, we’ve got to make sure we’re being inclusive, and that includes the younger demo. How do we get the legacy audience, who’s probably watching us on those more traditional platforms?
Over time, we’re going to learn more about who’s watching where and what we might find. We’re excited to learn. But our core thesis is that our digital is the live taping, our rawest form, all the fun, all the mistakes, all the ugly bits, and then we clean it up and it becomes a nice, pristine TV show.
That makes a lot of sense. I suppose it also explains the “we don’t know what we’re doing” aspect of your media presence. When you look at the website, it comes off like you all don’t quite know what’s going on.
BT: That’s dead-on accurate. That’s what we are. G4 has always been a comedic brand, and it just so happened that games and technology and gadgets were what that was applied to. That’s very much the most important thing. These are comedy brands that we feel embody the same shenanigans and sensibilities that are expressed across our stuff.
That’s just who we are. It’s not just the brand campaign. We will always be the first to acknowledge we’re terrible, we’re going to say we stink, we will be the first to punch ourselves. I think that defines G4, that’s what makes it accessible. We don’t have an ego. G4 can make fun of itself first.
It kind of reminds me of the original Muppet Show, that spit-and-baling-wire community theater feel.
BT: Yes. Yes!
What drew you to the talent that you picked for the relaunch? It’s this interesting mix of Twitch personalities, YouTubers, and a few returning people like Adam Sessler.
BT: As someone who worked at the original G4, it’s no secret: G4 was very white.
If you look at our cast now, our G4 cast today represents all gamers. I can say that with a full heart and complete sincerity. That’s who the gaming audience is. We’re representative across background, across sexuality, across gender. It’s really important. This is one of those things where, if you look back, G4 could’ve been better about. We didn’t necessarily have all the pieces that we needed.
The idea is that G4 is representing the industry, everyone’s very specific areas of interests and passions. We’ve got folks that are into esports, folks that are into cosplay, we’ve got tabletop. The world has changed. You look at our roster, it’s deep and dynamic. Because they’re successful Twitch streamers with those really deep points of passion, it’s authentic. You can’t be a successful Twitch streamer being inauthentic, you just can’t.
It’s consideration of who we want to be in 2021, and as we find our footing into 2022, as our programming evolves and we start covering events and we return to all the things that people expect G4 to participate in. At the old G4, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes did a weekly movie review that they didn’t need to come in and do. They did it because they wanted to be on G4 and to have fun.
Our programming is essentially our talent, putting our ideas together. We have the right people in play, and they want to create.
This interview has been edited for clarity.