Later today, there’s going to be 100 new channels for you to watch… But they’re not on TV. Nope, they’re all on YouTube, catering to unique interests ranging from cooking, to, more to the point, the geek and nerd crowd. Each channel will be filled to the brim with enough original content to program an entire season of television, but with you – the actual viewer – and not some network executive in mind.
One of those highly anticipated channels? Geek & Sundry from nerd icon Felicia Day, which will feature her original series The Guild, but also shows from Wil Wheaton, Paul and Storm, and a bunch of children. We chatted with Day in advance of the launch, and she gave us the scoop on what Geek & Sundry means to her career, what we can look forward to on launch day, and the chances of her crossing over with fellow nerd Chris Hardwick’s own channel:
MTV Geek: Obviously you’ve been at the forefront of the web video scene for a while, but Geek and Sundry is a huge leap forward. What’s it been like moving from just, you know, two series or so, to doing a whole channel?
Felicia Day: Doing Guild and Dragon Age at the same time last year really taught me and my producing partner Kim Evey what it takes to be able to manage multiple shows at one. The great thing was that we had the resources to bring more people on, and for some reason it's working with 6 shows now pretty well (knock on wood)!
Geek: In general, when I’ve talked to anybody about how they’re tackling the YouTube Channels initiative, there’s sort of this panicked look, followed by a, “We don’t… Know… Yet…” What’s your take on it? How are you approaching the channel, and what makes this different from either just your run of the mill YouTube channel, or a TV channel? What makes it the same?
FD: I made a decision not to leap into TV or Movies and instead decided to start this channel from scratch. I knew it wouldn't be easy and it is all a big gamble, but I have an amazing community of fans and supporters that I've spent pretty much every day with for the last four years. To go away from the web would mean to lose touch with them, and I have no interest in doing that.
When we sat down to create a slate of programs, we knew that we needed to scale each show with the budget we had, and make sure that each concept would resonate with our existing fans. I feel like I know what my audience wants to see, so we were able to take shows we had been developing, and reach out to people we admire, to bring them together under one new Geek and Sundry umbrella.
The thing that makes web video unique is the social aspect of it. Every one of these shows is meant to provide value outside the video for the viewers. We're not making content to be passively consumed, it's meant to be shared and owned by the audience. Number one for us is building community.
Geek: You may have just covered this, but general wisdom is that web videos need to be under five minutes to keep the audience’s attention span. That does seem to be changing, but how much are you going to play around with length on Geek and Sundry?
FD: I make it a policy to ignore rules, haha. Tabletop and Sword and Laser, our Friday shows, are 30 minutes long each. The Flog runs from 6-10 minutes each week. Is that a risk? Maybe, but to me the content is served by the longer time and the audience's appetite for watching longer form on different sized screens is growing. We have some short form shows as well, so we are programming all different lengths. The Guild seasons 1-4 will live as movie-length videos on the channel. We will see what people respond to!
FD: The Flog is my interpretation of a YouTube vlog show. Weekly I will cover things I want to highlight, usually indie things (similar to how I share on my Twitter account) and then every week I go out to learn a new skill, like blacksmithing, or play the violin or cook or play a video game. Really, it's whatever the heck I wanna do that week. I am one of those people who hungers to learn things, so I'm hoping that will inspire other people to try things they normally wouldn't as well. Who DOESN'T want to take trapeze class once in their life?!
I will be involving audience questions in the show as well, and have basically designed the whole show to be something that I can follow my whims with. I love the spontaneity of web video, and this show will be the epitome of that.
Geek: Dark Horse Motion Comics is all kinds of awesome… I imagine this is more for them, but how are they going to handle a weekly animated series? I imagine we’re not going to get a forty minute musical cartoon every week…
FD: Dark Horse will be doing 5 minute pieces based on their biggest titles, like Hellboy, Goon and Conan, as well as some of their smaller ones. There will be two longer event pieces during the year and The Secret will be released in four parts each day during launch week. The cool thing about this show in the motion comics animation technology. It's above and beyond what we've seen before, much more nuanced. Fun fact, the creator of the technology made an example on spec for Dark Horse and uploaded it to YouTube. Based on that piece, they hired him to develop the technique with them. It's full circle for the show to be released on our channel now!
Geek: Our games guy was pretty psyched about Wil Wheaton’s TableTop. This is obviously an important part of geek culture that, I think, has never been touched on TV or video before. What does Wil bring to the show, and what’s the focus going to be like?
FD: Wil brings a TREMENDOUS passion for the tabletop gaming space that really is the heart of this show. We make no secret that the show is designed to highlight a really underrepresented but passionate hobby, and we hope that it spreads the joy far and wide.
Every week three guests will join Wil to play a different game. We have titles from Ticket to Ride to Dixit, to Fiasco (based on a playbook that Wil co-wrote himself). We design every show to teach the audience how to play the game as they go along, and we're thrilled that people are as excited about it as we are!
Geek: What’s The Guild? I’ve never heard of it before. Why take a chance on an unknown property like this?
FD: Was this a question? Har har! So we're re-releasing seasons 1-4 as movies without credits, and with running gag reel annotation. We dug in the archives to add exclusive footage for fans who've already seen the show. Also, Season 5 will make its YouTube premiere on April 10th, and each episode will be accompanied by a never seen before behind the scenes video on Thursdays.
Oh, and there may be more surprises to come.
Geek: Sword & Laser is interesting, I think, because you’re talking about books, which obviously take a while to read, and often a lot of analysis. What’s the structure of this show going to be like, and how much will it ape the “book club” feel?
FD: Sword and Laser already has a very robust community as a podcast, that we hope expands as we take it into video. Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont are awesome hosts who love the space. Each week they will be doing interviews with authors, summarizing news in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy world, as well as reading a book with the community every month (the first one for their April 13th premiere is The Magicians by Lev Grossman).
I'm a huge reader myself, so the idea that we can create an internet-wide bookclub is thrilling! I'm hoping more people are encouraged to pick up these books based on the opportunity to share their thoughts, and community feedback will be a big part of the show. I'll be reading along for sure!
Geek: Written By A Kid seems to hook into same ideas as Story Pirates, and Axe Cop… Why do you think this resonates so well with viewers, and what makes Written By A Kid different from the other two?
FD: My producer Kim has been championing this project, it's been on our wish list to produce and get made for over two years. The cool thing about Kid is that each children's story is given to a different director to bring to life each week. Some will be animated, live action, dark, broadly comedic etc. We've gotten directors from very disparate backgrounds together, so each episode will offer a different style of filmmaking intercut with the children telling their story. This show will premiere in July, so we're shooting it now and there is some wackadoodle stuff, I promise!
Geek: And finally, Learning Town: that sounds awesome. I have no questions, but feel free to elaborate if you want.
FD: This show is releasing LATE this year, so I don't want to give too much away today, but we're building a Guild-scale show around the hilarious geek-music comedy duo Paul and Storm. They are touring musicians, and they'll be starring in a scripted musical series set in a twisted kid's show environment.
Geek: What else is coming from the channel that you can tease? Or is this enough, and I should leave you alone already.
FD: We are definitely uploading a huge surprise early on launch day. Fans will be pleased, that's all I can say :)
Geek: One reaction I heard from a number of people was surprise that both you and Chris Hardwick were launching separate channels… Are we going to see you two fight, before teaming up? And is there any chance for a crossover?
FD: We will 100% be crossing over! Both our slates are very different from each other, and I'm super psyched for him because his stuff looks awesome! Chris has already appeared on Tabletop, I'm going to guest on his interview show, and throughout the year we will be supporting each other. We both win together, that's my philosophy and we'll be helping each other as much as we can!
Geek: Just to finish off, this is pretty much a brave new world in programming… What do you want viewers to take away from Geek & Sundry, and where do you see it going in the long run?
FD: In the short term, I want each of these shows to enrich people in a unique way, whether it's inspiring people to read more Science Fiction, or buying a cool indie Tabletop game. I want the communal experience of each show to be an integral part of our channel, BEYOND the videos. We have Guild viewers who have met their best friends and wives though our community, I want to continue to expand that to be bigger and better, connecting people who might not ever meet each other in real life otherwise.
Long term, we hope to get picked up for another year of programming after this year (please subscribe to support us! :) ) and hopefully prove that we have enough audience to build even more shows on the channel, make an even bigger slate. This is my baby, just like the Guild, and I'm in 100% to make it as awesome as I possibly can!
Geek and Sundry launches today, April 2nd on YouTube!