Before Twitch, there was G4.
From 2002 to 2013, the premium cable channel fostered a cult viewership with shows like X-Play, where journalists Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb reviewed the latest video games; and the live magazine talk show Attack of the Show! hosted by Kevin Pereira and, for a time, a pre-Hollywood fame Olivia Munn.
Through a combination of expertise, likable personalities, and irreverent humor, G4 practically invented much of today's games media landscape. Today, you can find dozens of streamers broadcasting Demon's Souls and uploading gaming-inspired TikTok sketches at any given moment. But when G4 was on the air, it was the only place on TV that took games and tech seriously, featuring a mix of news and analysis plus jabs at popular culture, Bush-era politics, and sometimes its own audience.
Today, those previously involved with G4 — and its November 24 online reunion special — argue on behalf of its enduring, if unrecognized legacy in 2020.
"Personality was at the forefront [at G4]," Sessler tells Inverse. “Our warts, our flaws, our ability to make fun of ourselves was more present.”
The co-host of X-Play from 1997 (back when it was GameSpot TV on ZDTV) until his termination in 2012, Sessler says the frazzled, chaotic nature of G4’s hosts was not only counter to conventional wisdom but ahead of its time. G4’s hosts predated vloggers and influencers, where approachability is currency.
Sessler, too, was a paradox for a TV personality. He was both G4’s most credible games journalist and its most self-deprecating comic actor. He wore mullet wigs and argued with a sentient Xbox. "Obviously in the history of television, shows had personalities, but it was a little plastic," he says. "There was a deliberate distance between host and audience.”
The hosts of G4 lacked the polished sheen of late-night talk hosts and CNN anchors. They were professional when they had to be — see them dress up in business casual for E3 coverage — but they also weren’t above spilling fake blood in horror movie parodies.
“That does change the relationship with the audience. I think that paved the way for streams,” Sessler says. "Unless you are the best player, you need to drive that stream through personality. Even great skill becomes kind of cold. You need something to back it up."
"G4 was, in fact, successful," says Pereira, co-host of Attack of the Show! from 2004 to 2012. In contrast to Sessler, Pereira spent years at G4 as a smarmy button-pusher whose quick wit and sharp takes on consumer technology made him impossible to hate.
In 2013, G4 was shuttered by corporate overlords at Comcast and NBCUniversal when it failed to attract enough adult male viewers to please advertisers. What observers and ex-employees like Pereira and Sessler point out, however, was that G4 had an uncanny appeal to a younger, more online audience.
G4’s immersion in web and geek culture connected with an online-savvy generation of millennials. "The network innovated in many ways and set the standard how to cover conventions, live specials, and personality-driven content," Pereira says. "[G4] inspired a lot of the content we see today."
More than seven years after G4 went off the airwaves, the channel is now staging a comeback. While there are many questions about what the "New G4" will look like when it returns in 2021, there is one thing anyone knows for sure: The "Old G4" is getting back together for a reunion.
A Very Special G4 Holiday Reunion Special, hosted by actor/comedian Ron Funches brings together many former G4 hosts under one roof for the first time in years. And yes, they're under a roof in this pre-taped special filmed earlier in November with social distancing measures.
"It's a love letter to G4's past and a bizarre intro for those uninitiated what G4 is going to be," Pereira says. "Against the backdrop of what has been a rollercoaster year, we all excitedly ran right into that studio and made something."
Among the returning faces are Sessler and Pereira, giants of G4’s past whose longevity at the network is a testament to their strengths. They are also two men with polarizing endings to their G4 careers.
When Pereira left in 2012, he received a hero's farewell with his greatest moments memorialized like a mausoleum. For Sessler, there was yelling with NBC executives and a security escort.
Now in 2020, their associations with G4 are part of an emotional, years-long odyssey. Neither confirm any professional relationship with the resurrected G4, nor do they discuss what they know about it. Says Sessler, “All those questions, even my involvement, I think would be unfair to the audience and to the people working at G4 right now trying to plan what the network’s going to be to even start talking about something like that.”
But the two are openly soaking in rosy feelings. "The intervening eight years made it so much more desirable," Sessler adds. "There's a great deal of comfort working with the most talented people I've ever worked with in my life."
After G4 fired Sessler in 2012 he continued reviewing games for Revision3, the now-offline web channel, before leaving in 2014. He formally left games media afterward to "wander other parts of the internet,” including consultancy and analytic start-up firms. He also had a supporting role in the 2015 horror movie Lumberjack Man.
As of now, Sessler is still retired from games media, unless you follow his Twitter account. But the weirdness of 2020 has reawakened nostalgia in the former X-Play host. "In any other year, it would have been cool. This year, I would say, emotionally nourishing."
In 2018, Pereira faced his own hardships when, in an effort to save his Twitch show The Attack (launched in 2014), he turned to view-botting, a disgraced practice where channel owners falsely boost view numbers. Pereira owned up to his actions in statements to Polygon, saying, "I'm tragically defeated by it all."
Two years later, Pereira tells Inverse: "I've had varying degrees of success with production companies and start-ups, and I've had no shortage of walloping failures. I've definitely learned more from the failures."
Similar to Sessler, Pereira is spending 2020 recognizing how much his old Attack of the Show! habits are still in him. "I can't stop refreshing my feeds. My feeds are gaming, tech, pop culture nonsense, and I love it,” he says. “I live it and breathe it every day, and the notion of returning to that, or using that to forge something professional again, is ultra exciting."
A Very Special G4 Reunion Holiday Special airs November 24 at 9 p.m. Eastern on Twitch and YouTube.