Going to see The Screensavers

Every so often I catch an episode of The Screensavers on TechTV. It’s a fun show that is mostly about covering tech news and gadgets, and is just barely entertaining enough to remain watchable (granted, talking about computers for 90 minutes straight everyday isn’t exciting material to work with). I’ve seen friends Cory and Derek on the show before, and was asked by one TechTV host to consider appearing on it to talk about MetaFilter a while back, and I noticed they’re always begging for people to be a part of the small audience (part of me always wants to see what the show is really like, anyway).

A couple weeks ago for the heck of it, I filled this form out and a few days later they gave me a date to be at the studio and a time. Overall the experience was fun and it was great to see how a show comes together. The shot above I snapped from my TV, as they panned over to us and asked a question. A few observations:

- They make you show up at 3pm, and the show starts at 4pm, but it didn’t seem necessary to getting the show off right. We sat in a conference room and listened to some really awful good cop/bad cop shtick between two employees, as they spent about 35 minutes explaining about 5 minutes of information to us. It was a lot like traffic school having to sit through it.

- The set is pretty small, but I figured it was low-budget and tiny, so I wasn’t too surprised. On TV, I never really looked at the set but if you asked me about it, I’d say it looked like it was filmed around huge steel girders, as if the studio were at the foot of the Golden Gate. In person, the set is painted the most atrocious fake bright orange bronze, but on camera it looks fine. In real life, it’s styrofoam and plywood covered in day-glo glitter paint, on screen it looks like rusting metal. Amazing.

- Leo Laporte was pretty quick and entertaining on and off camera, and fun to be around. He hung out with the audience often during breaks and chit-chatted. Megan from the show talked with each and everyone as well.

- I finally got to meet Kevin Poulsen after missing him at a friend’s party. We talked about the Homeland Security Bill’s “putting hackers away for life imprisonment” clause and neither one of us could come up with a past example of any act of hacking that could qualify. He warned that once on the books, this law was ripe for abuse and would be twisted by lawyers to give serious penalties to less serious crimes than it was designed (poorly) for.

- The show is pretty good for a live show, but it doesn’t seem like it needs to be live. I’m sure they could film same-day, do a few takes, do some quick editing, and still stay on top of the fast moving world of computers. I guess it cuts down on the time taken to get the show on the air to do it all at once, but it seems like it takes a great deal of resources to get a total crew of 50+ people in one place at one time all working on it, just to play on the channel a few times in one day and never repeat the episode again. I also never understood why the show was so long (90 minutes), as 20-30 minutes of it seems to be devoted to solving new computer user’s problems via phone or basic tutorial style tips. They said the show was moving to 60 minutes long in January which should improve things. I wonder if the show bleeds money or makes any. Based on the awful commercials they take (cheesy infomercial style clips about 3-D glasses and setting up an internet terminal business), I guessing they’re not covering the cost of producing the shows.