G4TV (TV for Gamers) felt like the last major cable channel. The network put videogames on television in a way they had never really been on television before: in wall-to-wall programming blocks showcasing the culture of games. Chris Gore, the founder of Film Threat and an on-air personality on G4, has directed this snappy memorial project which warmly retraces the legacy of one of G4’s most popular internal creations, Attack of the Show! (2005-2013), diving into a vault of the show’s most memorable clips and new behind-the-scenes material. It’s an intriguing prospect, for a very specific kind of person, but as the runtime increases, the documentary is short on conclusions and pivots to an antagonistic angle that television is just too woke for the kind of segments Attack of the Show! used to perform.
Using “woke” in this way, as always, is a misnomer. The concepts of the show itself were patently and purposefully offensive and if people were to be genuinely offended and hurt by the material they performed that many years ago, they do have that right. If all that is revealed in reflecting on a television program is that you can no longer do and say what they did and said on television, it seems like the show and channel have written their own death certificate.
The catch is that this doesn’t seem like the real story. The documentary is diverted by this, for at least ten minutes, but it’s neither here nor there. What really happened is the internet, and the popularity of YouTube and eventually, live streaming. We could finally go look up the specific games we wanted to see. We could watch live streams of any part of a videogame convention and no longer needed the middlemen on the show floor, making a show of themselves. The way we consumed videogame footage radically shifted and so did the priorities of network television. Niche television was out. G4 became a central hub for Cops, Cheaters, and other bottom-barrel content, and the original programming that once differentiated the network was gone. Soon it was replaced by Esquire TV but more importantly it was replaced by YouTube.
You begin to wonder if, when folks in the documentary say that Gamer culture was less divided ten years ago if they were paying attention to the forum culture, the 4Chanization of videogame conversation online, or what the actual content of online videos about videogames were about. In the hurry to celebrate the network and its prized show, the documentary seems to give a disingenuous discourse on what has really changed about videogame and tech media as a whole. G4 is just one chapter in an overall story. When it was a primary resource, it was certainly a factor, but it was outmoded by the same things that replaced most traditional forms of journalism and television.
The perspectives on Attack of the Show! cannot be very helpful to the new viewer. Many of the most off-putting clips from the show are chosen. No, a new audience is not rejecting the Pedobear bit because they are woke. They just have better options of what to watch now and is not nostalgic about that because it isn’t really funny. The other awkward choice here is the hagiographic almost-worship of Attack of the Show! host Kevin Pereira, who came from other G4 shows and was the most stable host of this show. He is the subject, yes, but does not especially need to be valorized for his often puerile sense of humor — in this same documentary that celebrates him, his personality is compared to that of a 4Chan poster.
What it does establish is the launching pad of the show for on-air talent Olivia Munn, who notably does not participate in the documentary. Attack of the Show! and especially gifs of it on the internet, really did rocket her to some considerable amount of fame and some roles in Hollywood movies. The way the show utilized Munn, usually at a sexual level, go mostly unexamined for their obvious discomfort, and the other things that are unturned just aren’t very interesting. While the show breezes past the material for Munn’s replacement host Candace Bailey, the network is kind of falling out of favor at this point and the documentary has to pivot again.
The most interesting conclusions Attack of the Doc! finds are about the celebrity of the hosts in Gamer culture. They would be semi-swarmed by convention-goers wherever they would set up a stage. It becomes clear how the G4 format became a kind of arm for the publicity needs of the now defunct E3 convention. As a former attendee around this time, these shows really did have their own setups, set aside from the industry people at the shows, as though they were even more prominent exhibitors. The relationship between the presenters and their fans is an intense kind of parasocial relationship and a topical nerd culture show like Attack of the Show! really did flourish in an environment like that.
With all the memorializing, it’s easy to miss what happened next. G4TV came back for a short while, rebooted by parent company Comcast, and was subject to some of the lowest Nielsen ratings (a metric for the performance of television), and their rebooted Attack of the Show! drew little interest from the same circles who used to watch when it was the only game in town. Again, the documentary says this is because of the irreverent approach that used to be allowed and that the new show, and that the version for the woke, modern audience just wasn’t compelling by comparison. There is a kind of complex here about the culture of gaming somehow still taking backseat to any other form of entertainment, when gaming videos have never been more accessible and popular as they are now.
We did have something for a while there. I remember that first summer our cable picked up G4. The initial excitement of watching Arena (2002-2005), a show about LAN-based games in particular. The rush of excitement of watching a CTF Mech Warrior match with commentary on television. It was a window into a more exciting future but the newness of that, matched against all these bumpers for the games we all played and wanted to see real footage of, was like a dream. That magic was short lived. Once we could choose which game to watch, why would any audience ever watch the games they didn’t play? The format didn’t fit the context of use anymore. We were on our consoles and playing content about videogames from them. As I see it, there’s only one more route for G4, to resume on Peacock, but perhaps Comcast just needed to demonstrate one last time, with their last trial which came without any promotion or fanfare, that the enterprise was destined to fail and was never future-proofed for the internet. I wish the documentary came to any of the same conclusions. Instead, it has deeply ugly ideas about why the subject in question worked, what was interesting about it, and why it doesn’t work anymore, and most of these ideas, in my humble opinion, are wildly off-target.