G4, also known as G4TV, was a television network known for two things: a focus on video games and geek culture, and one of the more infamous cases of network decay. The network went through some serious growing pains in trying to find an audience and gain ratings and advertisers. In the end, G4 was a failed exercise in Old Media Playing Catch-Up in television channel form; the network's demise became one of the most tragic cable stories since FNN (the Financial News Network) was sold for parts to CNBC in 1992.
The Comcast-owned channel was launched in April 2002 by Charles Hirschhorn. The lineup entirely consisted of gaming-related shows such as Arena (a multi-player gaming competition show), G4TV.com (an interactive talk show connected with the website), Cheat! (a show dedicated to cheat codes and walkthroughs; think GameFAQs on TV), and reruns of Starcade. The channel struggled to find viewers and get into more homes since the only major carrier with G4 was Comcast's own cable service. In 2004, Comcast bought out Tech TV, a beloved network, carried on more systems, that focused on computers and technology, then merged the two networks into G4TechTV, a move which gave G4 all of TechTV's channel slots on the various cable carriers. Originally this was pitched to the viewing public as a merger of two cable channels with similar missions, but the truth was that all G4 truly wanted of TechTV was their more widespread carriage by other providers. Behind the scenes, the new executive brass gave all of TechTV's cast and crew an ultimatum: Move to Los Angeles, or be let go. Most of them decided they'd rather leave. The TechTV branding was flushed out in less than a year's time, with only X-Play (and its hosts), The Screen Savers (soon to become Attack of the Show!), and Unscrewed with Martin Sargent the only TechTV shows surviving the merger. The death of TechTV alienated that network's fans— ironically enough, part of the audience that G4 was trying to reach.
Neal Tiles became G4's network president in 2005, and he immediately tried to broaden the channel's scope into a more general male-oriented channel in the vein of Spike TV. During his time in charge, G4 obtained more off-network reruns — including the much-maligned Cops and Cheaters — to fill schedule time. Unscrewed did not last much longer after this - it was cancelled after its creative team was resistant to changes in the format. This was also the time in which Attack of the Show! brought on Olivia Munn as a co-host and became an Internet/pop/geek culture sensation, while X-Play began to cover all of video game culture. Code Monkeys, a cartoon that parodied 1980s video game culture, became a Cult Classic amongst the G4 fanbase. And Ninja Warrior became the network's highest-rated show. Despite the growing fanbase, the network still had issues behind the scenes. Layoffs continued as a cost-cutting measure and the G4 studios were relocated to the same building as E! Network and the Style Network (and downsized, to boot). By this point, the off-network reruns were becoming more and more of what aired on the channel, causing ratings to plunge. In November 2010, DirecTV dropped G4 as a whole, justifying the move by pointing at the network's low ratings.
In 2012, Comcast finalized a merger with NBCUniversal, and G4 gained a new network president in Adam Stotsky, who came in with plans to completely rebrand the channel once again. Long-time G4 personalities Adam Sessler (X-Play) and Kevin Periera (Attack of the Show) left the network admist the rumors of rebranding. (Olivia Munn had already left in 2010 to pursue what would become a successful acting career.) Not long after Sessler and Periera's departure, their respective flagship shows were cancelled; they ended their runs on the 23rd of January 2013, which brought to an end all G4 studio programming. Stotsky planned to rebrand G4 as "The Esquire Network" as part of a partnership with pop culture magazine Esquire. When the time came for the network's re-launch, G4 was replaced with...nothing! Absolutely nothing!
NBCUniversal originally set the Esquire Network's initial launch date on April 22, 2013. A lack of original programming for the new channel forced a delay to September 2013. Then, the entire re-brand strategy changed when NBCUniversal decided to replace Style Network instead— by that point, Style had broader carriage than G4, given that it was still on DirecTV, and it was too similar to NBCU's other two women-focused networks (E! and Oxygen). What happened to Style/Esquire...
Comcast removed G4 from its own cable systems starting in January 2014, following the lead of several major cable providers that had dropped it earlier. Throughout 2014, only AT&T U-Verse, the newly formed Google Fiber, and a few other small cable providers carried the channel, solely to fulfill contracts with Comcast and NBCU. Those agreements expired on the last minute of the 31st of December 2014, Eastern time. By this point, G4's programming consisted almost entirely of reruns of Airwolf, Campus PD, and Web Soup. G4's last hours consisted of the five-part The Top 100 Video Games of All Time special, with the very last show aired being the first episode of X-Play. The network signed off with a game of Pong (referencing when G4 launched with all-week Pong games) that slowly shrunk and filled with a grey color, followed by a sound clip of Kevin Pereira shouting "I'M AT COMIC-CON!!!" (a possible allusion to G4 dying and going to "nerd heaven") as the dot shut off like an analog TV alongside Donkey Kong's death bloops from the Atari 2600 and the Game Boy start-up chime. You can see G4's symbolic "Game Over" for yourself on YouTube.
On August 31, 2017, the Canadian version of G4 was finally shut down, ending more than two years after the U.S. channel shuttered, thus completely removing any trace of G4 from the airwaves. G4TV.com, the network's once-robust website, lasted for almost three years after the network's shutdown as a freemium game portal and an archive of sorts of older videos before being used as a redirect to Syfy Wire's website. Syfy's freemium gaming website had a news and videos section with the G4 branding, presumably so NBCU could retain the trademarks, but that went kaput and just now is a dormant website. Eventually in late 2018, the G4 site shutdown completely and now just redirects to Syfy Wire.
American Ninja Warrior is the sole surviving G4 original series. The show moved to NBC before G4's rebranding and ultimate demise. That show is no longer produced by G4's quasi-parent company, G4 Media, which now exists only to maintain the TechTV and G4 program libraries. In 2017, Disney XD launched their D|XP block with content produced by former X-Play producer Wade Beckett and hosts Kevin Pereira (who produces The Attack, a Spiritual Successor to Attack of the Show!) and Blair Herter. The closest spiritual successor still within the NBCU umbrella is Syfy, that at least covers the fandom aspects of nerdom.
G4TV programming included:
- Attack of the Show!
- Code Monkeys
- Judgement Day
- Web Soup