R.I.P. The Screen Savers

June 17, 2004

Years ago, I used to enjoy playing with screen savers.  Back in the day, if my machine was otherwise idle, fireworks, or squadrons of flying toasters or mazes of pipes used to bang or flutter or extrude their way across my monitor.  After awhile I got tired of it—the noise if I forgot to turn the monitor down, the excess system resources used, memory leaks, etc.  Since then, I’ve just set my screen to a quiet, boring peaceful “off” when it isn’t in use.

For the past couple of years, I’ve watched TechTV’s “The Screen Savers.” I even enjoyed it a lot more than flying toasters—up until recently…

Sure, most of the calls tended to be about stuff I was long familiar with, or had no interest in, as did many of the features.  I was usually aware of the tech news of the day before the evening’s show came on.  But still, there was a lot wonderful about it. For starters, the show personalities were genuine geeks, doing that rarest of things—live TV, or something damn close to it.  They did it well.  It takes a certain amount of daring and chutzpah to try doing real live techie stuff really live, and although things often failed or went awry, they did it well.  The chemistry worked brilliantly—Leo Laporte, even longer in the tooth than I am, showing geeks come in all ages, Patrick Norton, a big guy who spends a lot of his time desert racing, and a cast of co-hosts and presenters young and old, male and female, who just meshed well. 

Leo Laporte's 2005 Technology Almanac
Leo Laporte’s
2005 Technology Almanac
Leo Laporte's 2005 Gadget Guide
Leo Laporte’s
2005 Gadget Guide

The show was daring, often doing goofy stuff that I couldn’t imagine TechTV’s legal beagles would allow—modifying game controllers with cattle prod parts for that extra jolt, destroying hard drives in the back yard with thermite, and the list goes on.

The show was respected, and had guests on that were often surprisingly huge fans—the FCC’s Michael Powell, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Sterling, and many that I can’t remember.

Even Tivo’d (and they’d show you how to hack your Tivo if you hadn’t already), there was always a fair amount that you wouldn’t dare fast forward through.  Even though I did fast forward through a lot of basic help calls and instructions, I kept a fairly close note on what they were helping with, as their web site was a GREAT resource for sending not-so-technical friends to for help.  “You need what?” “Mmmm—hey, The Screen Savers just did a how-to on that—let me e-mail you the link to their show notes”.  I sent TONS of people to their site to get help with stuff, many of whom also became great fans (and developed some clue of their own along the way).

Leo Laporte's 2005 Mac Gadget Guide
Leo Laporte’s
2005 Mac Gadget Guide
Leo Laporte's Guide to Tivo
Leo Laporte’s
Guide to Tivo

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Amidst much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, Comcast bought the channel, and systematically wiped out all of the good stuff.  Leo Laporte, who did over 10 hours a week of live TV, most of it helping lost newbies out of the woods, was gone.  They gave everybody else 60 days notice, and announced that a few of them might be re-hired if they wanted to move from the channel’s traditional home in San Francisco to Los Angeles (along with a massive paycut, according to rumors).

I tried to stick around for awhile, and see what would happen, but the energy was gone.  What’s worse, much of the give-a-shit apparently was too.  Guide data for the channel went away, meaning Tivo and SageTV couldn’t even manage to find the new shows (amid all the reruns that started running).  The other day I went to send someone to the web site to find something that was covered a couple of months ago, and most of the web site was gone as well, with just a little bit merged into the new “G4TechTV.Com” site (which is almost impossible to use with Safari).

Sigh.  It’s over.

Now, much like my monitor, the TV is dark during the time it used to show the frolicking geeks of The Screen Savers.  And we are all a bit worse off for the loss.

So long, guys. 

(and thanks, User Friendly for a couple of great illustrations to link to)

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7 Responses to “R.I.P. The Screen Savers”

  1. Scott Craig on July 23rd, 2004 12:52 pm

    I stumbled upon this link, but I’m with ya. I really miss the days of the non-comcast screen savers both in the show content, live shows, and web page. They should be taken to court for murder… they murdered one of the best shows on TV for feeling good about geekiness or tech savvy. Leo was really great. Someone young and old could relate to. What I see of the cast now is good to… but I wish Leo would be more regular.

  2. Chuck Lawson on July 23rd, 2004 2:41 pm

    Last I heard, Leo had apparently signed a deal to do the Canadian version of “Call For Help” on “G4TechTV Canada” or somesuch—apparently the Canadian version of the channel is owned by Rogers Cable, who I guess has a lot more clue than Comcast does…

    I was never much of a Call for Help fan (a little too basic for me), and prefered Leo’s edgier performance on TSS, but he’s really amazingly talented at steering newbies, so this would be a good gig for him..

  3. Karl Dusenbery on August 28th, 2004 12:13 am

    I loved to watch the regular screen savers on normal Tech TV. Now it’s just kinda weird without Leo and Patrick. I mean, why did BOTH of them have to leave! Kevein Rose is cool, gotta love his dark tips. I remember the times in 2003 when I used to know that every weeknight there was a guaranteed NEW, live, show of TSS to watch and enjoy. It was great to just geek-out with them every day.

  4. Tom Skillman on August 30th, 2004 10:17 pm

    I feel your pain.  I was an avid viewer of TSS myself.  Having a CS degree, I agree that much of the content was existing knowledge for me, but there was always something to be learned.  Its sad to see so much of the talent gone.  I just noticed today that Peter is gone as well.  I havent’ seen a show in ages….been quite busy this summer.  I think G4 needs to be shown who’s boss..I’d love to get all the TSS lovers out there (and the rest of the disgruntled Tech TV fans) and email bomb G4.  I doubt they’d listen, but hey, it’d be fun doing it.

  5. Karl Dusenbery on August 30th, 2004 10:26 pm

    I get g4TechTV email newsletters to inform me of new episodes of thier shows. I suggest to everyone who likes TSS to do so. TSS will return early September on their new L.A. set. I know for sure that Unscrewed with Martin Sargent will return on Sept. 7th.

  6. Scott Craig on August 31st, 2004 6:52 am

    Sarah Lane is great (really great) to watch, although I fear that if her and Kevin Rose ever had personal troubles, the show would be doomed immediately. I agree about Kevin’s dark tips. Fun stuff to hear about or see. If Leo was making 4 times as much money as they want to pay now, it was probably worth it. I think he expanded their viewership immensely. They need to run TSS multiple times a day and get ride of multiple successive shows of the gaming shows.

  7. Chuck Lawson on August 31st, 2004 9:28 am

    I have to agree that Sarah was fun to watch.  In fact, there was never a shortage of pretty exceptional female talent on TSS, TechLive, or Fresh Gear, at least back in the day.

    One of the many things that amused me to no end on TSS was how close to the fire Leo was willing to get in some of his comments to or about them—one I remember vividly was a caller who mentioned that he liked Jessica’s tips, to which Leo replied loudly “Jessica has GREAT Tips!” with just a hint of ambiguity on the pronounciation of the final “p”… Patrick was cringing under the table, Jessica’s face was redder than her hair, and Leo just stood there with his classic sh*t-eating grin… lol..

    I always wondered how fast they prematurely aged whatever legal staff they had—between stuff like that, and tips on things like mounting cattle prods in game controllers and using thermite to destroy drives, the network’s lawyers must have gotten 10 years older each night…

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