NEW YORK (AP) - There’s no media entity more pleased to be called an empire than Nerdist, the online factory of earnest pop culture enthusiasm.
This is largely because in the Nerdist universe, “Star Wars” is gospel; the kind of fandom those films have inspired is in many ways Nerdist’s model of engagement. It would probably cheer Nerdist creator Chris Hardwick, a comedian and TV personality turned Internet entrepreneur, if this story began in words that drifted dramatically away into space.
The force, you might say, is strong with Nerdist.
The unabashed sincerity of Hardwick and Nerdist has proved infectious. Nerdist began as a little weekly comedy podcast hosted by Hardwick and launched in 2010. It has grown to encompass a network of 21 podcasts, 27 YouTube shows and a growing TV presence. The umbrella company, dubbed Nerdist Industries, was last year purchased by Legendary Entertainment, a big-time producer of the kind of films Nerdist swoons over, like “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.”
Nerdist even boasts a kind of manifesto, a book by Hardwick called “The Nerdist Way” that comically outlines his ardent vision of an “artful nerd” _ one whose fandom isn’t merely critical and passive, but is passionately proactive. The best example of this was last year when Hardwick and Nerdist organized an Olympic-style torch relay, run with a lightsaber from George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, along the California coast from Los Angeles to Comic-Con (the Nerdist Oz) in San Diego. In the event, dubbed “Course of the Force,” Hardwick captained a replica Jabba the Hut pleasure barge down the highway.
Says Hardwick: “It made us go, `Oh, well, if we can do that …’”
Buoyed by such experiences and encouraged by rising clicks and downloads, Hardwick and Nerdist Industries CEO Peter Levin are increasing Nerdist’s TV presence while also exploring low-budget film possibilities.
Last month, BBC America, which has partnered with Nerdist for a number of specials, picked up “The Nerdist,” a variety talk show hosted by Hardwick, for 10 60-minute episodes to premiere in the spring. Hardwick has been a kind of cultural ambassador for BBC America in championing the series “Doctor Who” and hosts “Talking Dead” on AMC, which follows episodes of the zombie drama “The Walking Dead.”
Hardwick is also producing a pilot for Comedy Central and developing a science series with National Geographic. He would like to make a science-fiction comedy film, too, along the lines of 1999’s “Galaxy Quest,” which Hardwick considers “a perfect movie.”
In an entertainment world where comic books make blockbusters and TV shows spur cultish followings, the avenues are many for Nerdist. As Hardwick says, there’s something of “a land grab with nerd culture right now.” But adapting a hydra-headed digital empire into more traditional, mainstream media poses challenges, too, for the Nerdist realm.
Television is where Hardwick, the 41-year-old Kentucky-born son of pro bowler Billy Hardwick, first made his name. After a stint as a radio DJ in Los Angeles in the `90s, he started landing TV and film roles before becoming co-host of the MTV dating show “Singled Out” alongside Jenny McCarthy.
But it wasn’t until a show Hardwick had high hopes for had the plug abruptly pulled that he remade himself through the Internet, starting the Nerdist website in 2008 while continuing his stand-up career.
“What I figured out five years ago, I realized you don’t have to do just one job,” says Hardwick, who seldom takes days off or is far from his next tweet. “There was that old idea from my parents’ generation. I kind of decided: Why couldn’t I make a career out of smaller freelance-y jobs, building this fortress of solitude made out of things that I like?”
“I found what my voice was by asking myself: Well, what do I like?”