Chris Hardwick Reveals Details of BBC America Deal, How Nerdist Podcast Will Be Adapted for TV (Q&A)
Look up the word "nerd" in the dictionary and Chris Hardwick's name will be front and center. But the self-proclaimed Doctor Who "superfan" isn't the typical geek. With nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter, a popular website, host of G4's Web Soup and leader of the regular Nerdist podcast, Hardwick has successfully turned his passions into a viable career. So it was prime timing when BBC America announced earlier this week it was teaming up with Hardwick for a TV project based on his podcast, which had counted Doctor Who star Matt Smith, Jon Hamm and Lost exec producer Damon Lindelof as some of its guests. Though no specific airdate had been announced for the Nerdist show, Hardwick revealed that the pilot would be shot in June to air at some point later this year.
Hardwick chatted with The Hollywood Reporter the day after the BBC America deal was announced on how his podcast will be adapted for television, why the cable network is actually a good fit for comedy and what Hamm ultimately geeked out about.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did the BBC America deal come about?
Chris Hardwick: I think this all came about because for the last 14 months, I have not shut up about Doctor Who. [Laughs] I actually hired a specific Doctor Who blogger for Nerdist.com. It turned out that Devin Johnson, who works for BBC, I had sort of casually thrown out last May, “Hey, I sure would love to get the new Doctor, Matt Smith, on my podcast,” and he wrote back pretty quickly and said, “I will do my best to make that happen.” And he actually made it happen. Then Craig Ferguson – who is a fellow Doctor Who-phile – asked me if I wanted to come on the episode that he had Matt Smith on of his show and it was one Who-related thing after another. They said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, I have this podcast, it’d be fun to make a TV show out of it.” They said, “We have this Ministry of Laughs thing, what if we mashed them all together?” I said, “I like the way you think, BBC America!” It is probably the best thing that’s come out of rampant fanaticism, for being a superfan.
THR: How will the Nerdist podcast be adapted into a television show?
Hardwick: What I had pitched to them was that we’ll bring television elements into the show. We’ll do a couple of segments at the roundtable with our celebrity guests whoever they are, we’ll talk about whatever we’re nerding out at the time and then we’ll have segments and hopefully, correspondents. We can have stand-up on the show as well and really do all the things we’re not able to do on the audio-only version of the podcast. Part of my pitch was let’s sit down and talk to our celebrity guests for as long as we would talk to them on the audio podcast. You can cut out whatever chunks you need for the TV show and then I can make the full audio version available as a Nerdist podcast. All the content comes from one place but every platform complements each other, rather than cannibalizing each other.
THR: We’ve seen that content on a multiplatform level to be a viable option ..
Hardwick: That’s sort of the key is that you can’t put the same exact content – well, you can put the same content on every platform because some people won’t turn their televisions on – but I feel like it’s fun that way. As someone who’s very nerd-minded, whenever I see a lot of cross-platform stuff when I get bonus material on either side, then it makes me want to dive deeper, sort of like tearing apart the different pieces of the pie. [Pauses] That’s not a real metaphor. Tearing apart the different pieces of the pie? What sort of person raised in a cave is tearing apart a pie with their hands into pieces. That was a very flawed metaphor.
THR: When you think comedy, BBC America isn’t the first network to pop into your head. Is this a good pairing for you?
Hardwick: Any nerd who grew up around the time that I did, BBC programming was a treasure chest for us. For a lot of us who grew up wanting something a little different than American comedy had to offer. I grew up watching [Monty] Python and the Young Ones and Alan Partridge and all these different Brit-coms that we didn’t get here. It was almost like a video game. You really had to hunt down British programming and for whatever reason, the British programming was nerdy and weirdly academic – and a lot of times, academic fart jokes, if that makes any sense. I’d say the BBC really defined a lot of comedy for nerds in America when I was growing up.
THR: The British sense of humor is different from ours, so do you identify more with their style of comedy?
Hardwick: Absolutely. I was so heavily influenced by British comedy, and you see it happen all the time. American television constantly tries to co-op British comedy and create their own version of it. Most of the time it doesn’t work, obviously in the case of The Office, it did. But a lot of times, it doesn’t really work. I always just think, “No, but the British versions are so perfect the way they are.” Hosting Ministry of Laughs, it’s an organic thing for me to do. It’s very special to me because it feels like "aha," I finally get to show people – because we have the platforms available now – the types of comedy that influenced me when I was a kid. What I said to [BBC America] was, “You know a lot of demographic are nerds, right?” Nerds watch Doctor Who, nerds watch Being Human, nerds watch Top Gear. In my mind, you have a strong nerd demographic at BBC America and I want to help you explore that even more.
THR: How do you feel following in the footsteps of people like Ricky Gervais, whose podcast was later turned into an HBO show?
Hardwick: Ricky was a comedy podcast pioneer. He brought people’s attention to the idea. The fact that those guys did that made podcasting enough of a thing for comedians like myself or Mark Maron or Doug Benson or Jimmy Pardo to then be able to do it and have people kind of take it seriously as a real medium. The word podcast still sounds weird to me. [Laughs] It still sounds like, “My mom will pick you pick up in the minivan and then we’ll go. We’ll do it in the basement. Do you want some Kool-Aid?” I think it was Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, [who coined the term]. I remember seeing years ago they were doing an MTV Where Are They Now? special and Adam Curry said, “I’m working on this thing called a podcast.” I think internally I was like “Good luck with that!” and then it ended up being a formidable form of media.
THR: How is the Ministry of Laughs hosting gig going to work?
Hardwick: We’ll shoot interstitials for the programming, which I believe we’re going to shoot at [Nerdist’s official space at Meltdown Comics], so that we could do live podcasts, program other comedy shows and other nerd-themed programming. I don’t want to try to outdo the comedy of the shows with other comedy. I think with interstitials, it can be irritating if someone’s tuning in to watch a comedy and someone’s being a chimp in between, like “Hey, I’m trying to be funny too!” I have such great respect for British comedy that I think it’s just going to be me nerding out about these shows that I love more than anything else. And maybe have guests on and talk about how British comedy influenced them, and maybe we can get someone like Peter Serafinowicz come on if he would agree to and really hit it from his angle: What’s British comedy like in England? To them, it’s not British comedy, it’s just comedy.
THR: Have there been any surprising things that you never thought you’d hear a guest say or nerd out about?
Hardwick: It was a lot of fun to talk to Jon Hamm about what video games he’s playing. I mean, Jon Hamm … I think he’d probably admit this -- he’s a hardcore nerd. He texted me when he met Linus Torvalds, who created the Linux platform. That’s right ladies, Jon Hamm is handsome and brainy.
THR: Who are you eyeing for the first episode?
Hardwick: We’re going out to Barack Obama. That’s probably not going to happen. Kind of busy right now doing some stuff. I do have some ideas. I don’t want to say yet just because I want to be able to ask those people first. [Laughs]
THR: Who would be your dream guests?
Hardwick: I’d love to have Bill Murray on the podcast. I’d also love to have Harold Ramis on the podcast, another Ghostbuster. I’d love to have Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Chris Rock, anyone who influenced me as a comedian; these are all people I would love to have. But also, I’m not kidding when I say I’d love to have Stephen Hawking on the podcast. I’m not exactly sure how that would play out. I’d love to have Steve Jobs on the podcast though I’d probably never get him.
Then it’s also interesting to talk to other people, like someone who runs a tech company. I have a friend who started a company called MakerBot and they basically build inexpensive consumer 3D printing machines and now it’s a fairly successful business. That’s interesting to me. How did this guy break free and decide “I’m going to start building robotic 3D printers.” What you find is that the path that everyone takes are a little bit different and are unique to who they are, that’s what makes them interesting.
THR: What else are you working on?
Hardwick: My best friend Mike and I are doing an animated pilot (Hard N' Phirm's Musical Timehole) for IFC. It’s weirdly a musical time-travel show. See, it always comes back to Who for me. I think I’m going to do a little web series for Funny or Die, just like a scripted comedy directed by Scott Sanders who did Black Dynamite. I pitched an idea to Funny or Die and they said OK, then I asked Scott if he wanted to direct it he said sure. In the midst of all this, we might eke out a little Funny or Die series.
THR: Are there any products or games that you’re looking forward to?
Hardwick: E3 is about to happen and I’ll be covering that because I also work at G4 [on Web Soup], and supposedly Nintendo is about to announce a new game platform so that’ll be interesting. And then Comic-Con is coming up in July and we’ll be doing a Nerdist podcast live. As the day (July 23) gets closer, we’ll be able to announce our guest. Comic-Con is interesting because there’s so much going on at once, it’s literally impossible to do everything. You need clones and some sort of hoverboard so you can surf over the crowd of packed-in nerds.