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I Want My TechTV!

It was just a year ago this week that I first ordered digital cable at my house and discovered TechTV and G4. As a hardcore gamer and computer geek, having separate channels devoted to two of my passions ? gaming and technology – was something great. If I could only get all of the Red Sox games while living in Yankee-land, I?d have no reason to leave the house.

Well it only took a few hours of watching G4 to realize that the channel had nothing to offer me. G4 ? TV for gamers as it was called ? seemed to be for a totally different kind of ?gamer? than I was. I gave it several chances but I could never make it through one entire show. Players was a good idea ? each episode follows celebrities or bands that game ? but it seemed to be geared towards some focus group that I certainly am not a part of. The only other program that even remotely interested me was the game review show Judgment Day. Unfortunately the hosts were boring and they covered more console and MMORPG games than I cared to hear about. That got old real quick.

It seemed like every time I happened upon that channel they were showing either of those two shows or Portal a strange, unwatchable program that, as far as I can tell, is like a soap opera made from clips of different role playing games with one human ?actor? as the main character. I tried to watch their gaming awards show G-phoria ? the constant ads on cable drew me in – but it too was unwatchable and I changed the channel within the first 10 minutes. Nothing on G4 made sense to me and I just couldn?t imagine that they had a loyal following.

But TechTV was different. It truly was a channel by techies, for techies. It had interesting shows, quality talent, and did a great job of covering technology for both the geeks and the newbies. And it had what most computer geeks dream about ? hot chicks that are into gaming and computers.

TechTV?s game review show X-Play put everything else on G4 to shame. It was interesting, funny, informative, and the hosts were entertaining. The shows that really made TechTV as appealing as it was to me and fellow computer enthusiasts throughout North America was The Screen Savers and Call for Help. And as much as I or other ?geeks? didn?t want to admit it at the time, the glue that held all of that together was Leo Laporte.

Leo Laporte during happier days on the set of The Screen SaversLeo created both shows and hosted them for over six years. He brought his unique brand of tech knowledge combined with a goofy sense of humor and a genuine interest in his viewers? questions. The hosts, regulars and guests were interesting, and for the most part highly knowledgeable, and the content was timely and informative. Leo and the gang weren?t above making mistakes, and they were grilled about them in forums and discussion boards throughout the Web, but overall they were highly respected.

I spent the last 11 months watching TechTV as often as I could. The network helped me find plenty of ideas for articles, news items, or products to review for Designtechinca, but more than that, it entertained and educated me. And Leo, his Screen Savers co-host Patrick Norton, and the rest of the cast helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people with tech problems. Leo even spent all day on the day after Christmas doing his Call for Help-athon in which he answered as many calls as he could from people who just got new gadgets and didn?t know how to use them.

Then news came that G4, owned by Comcast, was buying TechTV and the two channels would merge as one. TechTV, the network with hot tech-savvy babes, knowledgeable hosts, informative shows and a loyal following would now be under the umbrella of G4, the network with poor talent, lame graphics, and nonsensical shows. It just didn?t make sense at all. Worse was news that Call for Help and Leo Laporte would be gone. Apparently Leo and Comcast couldn?t work out a deal and Comcast thought he appealed to a different type of audience than what they were going for.

There were a few weeks of awkward transition when TechTV showed a bunch of repeats and Call for Help tried to stay afloat with ?special guests? and Leo?s former sidekicks Roger Chang and Cat Schwartz handling the hosting duties. If anyone still wasn?t convinced that Leo Laporte made TechTV, weeks of watching Call for Help struggle awkwardly without him was proof enough.

And then a month ago this week it all came to an end when the merger was finalized and G4techTV went live. Not only was Call for Help gone, but so was another TechTV mainstay, the daily news show Tech Live. The Screen Savers, which had previously been rerun enough times during the day for everyone to catch, was now on only once or twice a day. Patrick Norton and much of the old gang was still there, but it had a decidedly different feel to it. And the daily G4techTV lineup was full of those G4 shows that me, and many fellow techies around North America, absolutely hated.

Those same Web forums and community boards that once goofed on Leo Laporte and the rest of TechTV?s small inadequacies are now full of people wishing they could have things back the way they were. New sites have sprung up in support of the old TechTV and Leo Laporte. Countless threads on G4techTV’s own message boards have been posted (and deleted) with complaints about the merger. As I post this article, there are two prominent complaint threads on the G4techTV forums, one with 248 posts and the other with 1104 posts. I?ve read a lot of these forums and sites and honestly, I can not find one poster who says TechTV is better now than it was before the merger.

One has to wonder if the Comcast execs actually watched G4 and knew what they were doing. Or if they actually ever watched Leo Laporte and understood what he meant to the community and what they were giving up.

Leo has handled this situation with integrity and class, as everyone expected he would. He posted updates when he could on his Website and taped a few 90-second spots for The ScreenSavers which gave the show a small sliver of its old appeal. While most of us don?t know the whole story of what went down with Leo Laporte and Comcast/G4, it?s obvious he was not happy with them and they were not happy with him.

Now it seems like Comcast is slowly coming to the understanding that they made a massive mistake. Leo has just announced that he will be doing a new Call for Help show on G4techTV Canada, strictly for the Canadian audience. How and why that came about I have no idea, but I?d really like to know.

Hopefully his new show will work out and make it back to the U.S. I?m sure peer-to-peer networks will be working overtime soon enough when those Canadian shows get recorded and shared for Americans longing for things the way they used to be.

Leo Laporte doesn?t need G4techTV, they need him. He is a successful author, a frequent guest on Regis and Kelly, a highly in-demand speaker and a very intelligent guy and he?d be fine without them.

But the damage has already been done. I rarely watch The Screen Savers now and don?t watch anything else on G4techTV. And from the forum posts I?ve read and discussions I?ve participated in, I know I?m not alone. There are many viewers out there that feel the same way: Leo Laporte was TechTV and it will never be the same again. 

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