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Eric: The Passion of the Sessler

So, there's this show called X-Play. It stars Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb. It started in San Francisco, put together by TechTV, which was aptly named because the entire television station seemed to have been produced in someone's garage. It was a sequel to Sessler's "Extended Play," which was just Sessler introing reviews of video games, which he would then be somewhat sarcastic about.

They upped the sarcasm and got Webb, a geek grrl from "The Screen Savers," to be a cohost. This became X-Play. And it was funny. And also lame. But the lameness was in a funny way.

You see... Sessler is clearly actually very intelligent about video games. And Webb actually was a producer instead of on air talent. They were both smart, and they had a kind of geek charisma going. Also? Neither one of them can act. At all. And that was funny -- the whole thing came across as public access cable meets a particularly funny blogger.

Webb brought a certain sex appeal to the whole thing, in an ultra-geek-grrl way. Lots of cute tee shirts and jeans and a bob cut. She looked like a gamer girl. Sessler played off his dorkiness. They did some sketches, mostly based around the fact that Webb was moderately cute and somewhat exaggeratedly violent, and Sessler was a weenie. Those got tired fast, but they were okay. The reviews were fun, and sometimes had little tiny sketch bits put into them, which were funny. Crude sometimes, but funny. Sessler reviewing a terrible video game and then cutting to a montage of things he'd rather do than play this game any more, including stapling himself in the crotch? Crude but funny, especially because it ended almost immediately. The point of the review was the review. The touches were just that -- little touches.

Then, four things happened:

1. Because they got a good reaction from the little snippets, those snippets expanded. They became part of almost every review. They began doing whole segments on the show that were nothing but sketch comedy. They upped the slapstick and the goofy voices.
2. Morgan Webb started getting heavy press as being gorgeous. Which, it's worth noting, she's not. She's extremely pretty, in a very real world way. She's not a Model in the artificial Model sense, and she's never going to be. But in a very natural, geek girl way she's pretty and cute. The press, however, made her out to be gorgeous.
3. Adam Sessler stopped bad acting and started "acting bad acting." Which went from charmingly inept to entirely too self conscious.
4. G4, which had both lower ratings and a worse reputation than TechTV, but a richer corporate parent, bought TechTV out, and moved the bits they retained to Los Angeles.

X-Play, at the end of the TechTV era, was in danger of becoming a parody of itself. With the move to California, that danger was realized in every conceivable way. Sessler went from acting wussy and inept to acting... well, retarded. (And that's not a word I use, normally.) Webb began doing photo shoots for training wheels mens' magazines like Maxim. The sketches became everything. Stupid characters, fart noises, Clutch Cargo style animation and running gags overwhelmed the actual video game reviews, which became far less about actually detailing the pros and cons of video games and more about doing goofy Quebecois characters whenever they do a Hockey game review.

And they upped production values. They did significant set design -- when before, the empty room with the couch worked just perfectly. They started dressing Sessler even stupider. And they started dressing Webb like an upscale sex symbol instead of a geek grrl.

Webb is the most frightening part of this whole thing. She has long, highly crinkled hair, heavy makeup, and shirt/slacks combos that scream "look at me, I'm the hot one you all like." Which would be fine if she kept as witty and funny as she always has been. But these days, she looks drugged most of the time, lacks almost all fire... she's sleepwalking to the end of her contract, when she will no doubt drop X-Play in the interests of her "career," which will end almost immediately because she can't act and she's not nearly pretty enough to get work despite not being able to act.

Sessler, on the other hand, also seems to be waiting out his contract and seems increasingly less engaged in what he's doing, but you get a sense he knows this is the end of it. From here, he'll get a column in a magazine or two, and maybe he'll get a gig doing 30 second video game reviews on Spike TV or the like. So the difference is he knows he's crested.

I get the feeling both realize their show has gone to Hell, and neither care enough to continue fighting for it.

In and around this, "G4TechTV" has gone back to plain old "G4," with most of the shows from TechTV having been purged, and an increasing number of hot chicks being added to their lineup. Which should be the writing on the wall for Morgan Webb -- her fellow geek girls aren't true geek-cred girls like Cat Schwartz any more. It's the hot miniskirted redhead they got on this season of "Cheat" -- girls hired for appearance and because they can convincing read copy, not actually game. The true hot geek girls left are the ones on G4TV.com, and both of them have stuck to appealing to the geek girl aesthetic all the way. Webb, going halfway between the G4TV.com girls and the Cheat girl, can't compete with either of them. Sessler, being male, can't compete with any of them.

There will still be an X-Play. It will still have stupid sketches and "X out of 5" ratings. It will still have a dorky guy and a hot chick girl. But it won't be the X-Play of TechTV and sometime soon it won't have Sessler and Webb, almost certainly. If they're smart, they'll get Victor Lucas from Judgement Day (he deserves better) and Tina Wood or Laura Foy from G4TV.com to do it. My odds are they'll get the absolutely execrable Tommy Tallarico (the reason Judgement Day is unwatchable) and some random hot chick in the Kristin Holt (the new host of Cheat, formerly an American Idol finalist and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, lest you think she's... you know, actually a gamer) mold instead.

Either way, it's official. X-Play just plain sucks now. And that's sad. Maybe, after Sessler punches out of his contract, he and Leo Laporte and Cat Schwatz and a few other refugees can get some backing to do a production company up in San Francisco. Maybe that company can start producing shows to sell to places like SciFi (you think a "Call for Help" wouldn't go over well in the three pm block at SciFi? Or at least better than "Old Manimal Episodes" does?) and Spike-TV and maybe even VH-1? TechTV's gone for good, but we can get glimpses of quirky substance over plastic style once more. Maybe, after a few years, Morgan Webb -- having been ground out of the LA Machine -- will hook back up and remind everyone she really is a producer, too.

Until then, I'm going to watch some horrible VH-1 talking heads shows. At least those are sometimes actually funny.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 3, 2005 12:06 PM

Comments

Comment from: Phy posted at March 3, 2005 1:43 PM

It had to be said. I'm glad you said it. Cue theme music from Wayne's World and let's go back to hating Rob Lowe.

Comment from: quentin mcalmott posted at March 3, 2005 3:01 PM

You're damn right about Victor Lucas and Tommy Tallarico. The first Judgement Day I ever saw had them discussing a RTS. Tallarico's reason for giving it a bad score? "You have to micromanage your units." He forgot the vitally important fact that micromanagement of units is one of the pillars that RTSs stand on. grar!

Comment from: The Archon posted at March 3, 2005 3:23 PM

I created an account (OMG noob!) just to respond to this post. I agree with you 150%. You've hit it dead on.

(Long meandering rant time!)

I've watched X-Play on-and-off since it was Gamespot TV (on ZDTV), cohosted by Adam and Lauren Fielder, and regularly since about 2 months before Adam got his second co-host, Kate Botello.

While I lost TechTV a bit before it got borged by Comcast, I saw the decline starting. The show still had its moments: Adam doing the

staple-to-the-groin thing was amusing, and the guy who dressed as Shinobi Dude was a hoot. But then there was that "Adam takes a fish out on the town" gag skit. (And I do mean 'gag'.)

Your comment on Morgan was dead-on. Cute, but not the goddess the media (training wheels mens' magazines - LOL!) would make her out to be. There was times she looked positively butch, not the super-sexy feminine wisp like they tried pimping her out as.

It's a shame that it's gone so far down, though, and that they're just going through the motions. I don't have anything against Morgan or Adam, even when the show sucks. (Adam could easily land as a reviewer after this, IMHO - he's got enough experience plus formal training. As long as he can dodge the stigma of being in the 'Police Academy' of video game TV.)

But what I've seen of G4 shows that they don't understand their audience. ZD/TechTV understood their audience. That's why shows the Screensavers took off. While TechTV was inviting Wil Wheaton on the Screensavers to visit or cohost, G4 was jerking him around and getting pilloried in his blog, killing what geek goodwill they might've had.

During the days of G4TechTV, you couldn't go into any semi-geeky or geeky web forum without hearing ranting. On the Unreal Tournament boards, they ranted on how some of the so-called expert UT players (on Arena) couldn't even switch between guns. On Fark.com they were ranting because "Unscrewed" got axed. TV-related sites were writing about how the TechTV lineup was bought and then effectively destroyed, or how G4 forced people to move from SF to LA or lose their jobs, then let them go anyway, jobless in a strange city. Many blogs linked to the vitriol coming from blogs of the recently-axed TechTV talent, giving it a wider audience.

As for the future? A recent news article printed the following:

G4 plans to tap into that (young male casual gamer) audience with programs such as "Girls Gone Wired," a digital beauty pageant scheduled to premiere this May, and "Formula D," which looks at the drift racing found in many videos games. It also plans a virtual NHL all-star game.

TechTV is dead, bought by G4 and then discarded in favor of 'SpikeTV Lite'. If G4 is going to represent this as what gamers are truly like, then be afraid. Be very afraid.

Comment from: KJToo posted at March 3, 2005 4:14 PM

Wow. Very good snark. I used to watch X-Play on a semi-regular basis (and annoy my wife by mimicking Sessler's tone and inflection when he says, "... out of 5"), but I stopped watching TechTV altogether once it was absorbed by G4. I do miss Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton on The Screen Savers, though (I could do without Martin Sargent).

Anyway, thank you for catching me up with everything I "missed" post-absorption. Well done.

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at March 3, 2005 5:27 PM

The G4-TechTV thing was pure ComCast.

"We can't compete? No problem- instead of making shows people want to watch, we'll buy out an existing channel just to grab its cable service coverage, then FORCE the cable markets to carry our crappy product! Muhahahaha!"

Judge Doom must be an exec at ComCast.

(And as for the G4 stuff? ALL *CRAP.* The *best* thing on their schedule was "Cinematech," mostly because it had NO HUMANS- JUST GAME CLIPS. Until, for no apparent reason, they started bringing on cheerleaders and lingerie models to talk about "their favorite games.")

Comment from: Phil! posted at March 3, 2005 5:50 PM

This reminds me of the angry letter I sent to G4 one time, complaining about how much they suck and why (from my perspective).

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at March 3, 2005 7:21 PM

Sorry, the bitter video game journalist in me can't feel too much pity for the inherently talentless, which is what I thought of X-Play's hosts. Good luck to them, and I hope that they do better with video gaming in their next pursuit, should they go that route.

Comment from: Trulz posted at March 3, 2005 7:48 PM

It's sad to see how much the show has deteriorated. I really loved TechTV since unlike G4 they had more than 3 shows. It's kind of pathetic that G4 is saturating their shows with hot girls, and even more pathetic that it is probobly going to work.

Comment from: Joshua Gelbard posted at March 3, 2005 10:09 PM

You hit the nail on the head with this one. It sounds like the letter I sent them just before I quit watching. Thr worst thing for me, though, isn't Morgan's "sluttification" (though I definitely agree that this is a bad turn of events) but rather Sessler's fake stupidity. A long, long time ago, he was witty and a good reviewer. He still is- it's just being repressed. You can tell he's not brain-dead every once in a while in a review of a big game like, say, Half-Life 2. The problem is that the channel doesn't know that there are fans who don't like this new, incredibly idiotic him. Most of the viewers who dislike it are not the kind of people who write angry letters- they just stop watching. The letters G4 does get are from viewers as stupid as Sesslers pretends to be, and they eat it up. "More, more!" they scream, probably in all-caps and leet, punctuated with a "lol" or two, and G4 gladly gives it to them.

It's now almost physically painful to tune in and watch Adam spout such witticisms as "they're purrrty! " or "once I *insipid fake childhood memory*," each of which are always followed by a grin covering his entire head. I can't do it any more and I no longer even check to see if it's improved. The sarcasm and wit is gone, and so is my will to watch.

Comment from: J. Stoncius posted at March 4, 2005 2:18 AM

Damn, things must have gone even more downhill in the last couple months. I lost pretty much ALL interest in the channel after they stopped showing Last Exile...which was the end of December.

I mean, I used to come home from classes and be EXCITED to watch Call for Help (even if they WERE mac guys!). Maybe I'm a geek, but that's what turned me on to Mozilla, which rocks the house over what I was using before in SO many ways. I actually LEARNED stuff from Tech TV. G4 is just kinda...eh. I'm totally the wrong demographic to be interested by b00bz0rZ and shows about Madden tournaments, so I don't get much out of the channel anymore...

Actually, the show is on right now, so I can REALLY see what you mean. Good God. They're talking about monsters that live in Adam's pants. MAKE THEM STOP. And...is it just me, or does Morgan Webb sound a lot like Alvin (of Chipmunk fame) when he's being particularly smarmy and condescending?

Comment from: KJToo posted at March 4, 2005 4:17 AM

Not cool, Burns.

I came home and fired up the TiVo, all geared up to create a Season Pass for old episodes of Manimal on SciFi... but they're not showing old episodes of Manimal on SciFi.

Dammit, man, Simon McCorkindale could turn into a black panther! That needs to be on my TiVo!

Buuuuuuuuurns!

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at March 4, 2005 5:32 AM

At the moment, Screen Savers is still moderately watchable, at least, especially now that they have dialed back heavily on girl-who-isn't-Sarah. Kevin #2 is okay, and Wossname who does the canned pieces from RandomExpo2005! is at least vaguely professional about it, if not particularly enlightening.

Obviously, I miss Leo and Patrick. And Yoshi. And, well, pretty much everyone else from San Francisco. Sarah and Kevin work best, IMHO, when there's someone a little older around.

Comment from: Slick posted at March 4, 2005 8:05 AM

...

I stopped watching shortly after the G4/TechTV merger. I even had 'BOYCOTT G4TECHTV! DON'T LET THEM FEED US CRAP!' in my sig over at {shameless promotion} http://forums.techguy.org {/shameless promotion}. It makes me sad even though I'd only been watching it regularly for about 2 years before the merger, it was awesome. I could turn it on just about any time during the day, and so long as it wasn't a repeat of the same block, be entertained. I found out about my {still} favorite game Beyond Good & Evil from X-Play shortly before I stopped watching, which otherwise would have gone right under the radar because of the shitty advertising that game got from Ubisoft. I even learned how to mod Windows from various segments done by Sarah Lane on TSS.

But...THEY CANNED YOSHI AND PATRICK?!!

Holy...shit.

Comment from: Jerivix posted at March 4, 2005 9:13 AM

G4 lost it for me two days ago when I (by mistake, I swear) watched an episode of "Arena." It's been a long time since I was actually offended by a TV show. What I saw was to groups of classec gamers, simply playing some games in the good spirit of competition, with a group of jackass announcers mocking them every other word. I mean, for pete's sake! What kind of bonehead move is that!?



They seem to have a warped image of their audience, the so called "Playstation Generation." What they haven't caught on to is that they still have a few years before that becomes their key demographic. For now, they're stuck with us geeks, but they refuse to recognize it.



Now, I leave you with this delightfully appropriate Penny Arcade: http://www.penny-arcade.com/view.php3?date=2004-11-08

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at March 5, 2005 5:05 AM

But...THEY CANNED YOSHI AND PATRICK?!!

Well, actually, they only "canned" Yoshi.

When G4 bought TechTV, they moved everything from San Francisco down to LA; obviously, it was a lot easier for folks like Kevin and Sarah to uproot and move downstate than for folks who had settled in a little more, like Leo and Patrick. So Leo and Patrick stayed up in San Francisco. Yoshi moved down, and had an expanded role at first, but then the G4 folks just sort of canned him one day.

Comment from: damonx9 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 7, 2007 9:25 AM

I found this posting by complete accident.

But I could not ignore such blatent.....correctness?

Whatever you would like to call it, I agree completly. I became a member JUST to point it out.

They went downhill, and then they went somewhere else.

All I know, is that they went there without me....

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