Revenge of the Nerds

PASADENA, Calif. — A decade ago, anyone labeled by the term “nerd” was mocked by popular culture. Today nerds rule, as a number of cable shows are paying homage to the nerd culture.

TBS, following on the ratings success of CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory — which revolves around a pair of geeky roommates and their socially awkward friends — this Thursday (Jan. 17) will launch King of the Nerds, a competition show to determine the biggest nerd in America. In March BBC America will return its pop-culture talk show The Nerdist, starring stand-up comedian Chris Hardwick and based on his popular podcast of the same name.

Network executives and show producers say that nerds are fast becoming the newest television craze that has appeal to both male and female viewers.

“You could have never pitched nerd culture shows 10 or 15 years ago … they would have laughed in your face and wedgied you and kicked you out,” said Hardwick, who also hosts AMC’s Talking Dead, a live talk show that airs immediately after every episode of the network’s popular horror series The Walking Dead.

The Nerdist talk show features discussion of all the things that nerds love, from pop culture to news and tech trends.

Hardwick, speaking last week during BBC America’s presentation at the Television Critics Association Winter tour here, said the fast pace of new technology — the hallmark of nerd culture — has built an growing appeal of nerd culture among millions of iPad, iPod and tablet users. As a result, nerdy characters walking around in bowties, argyle sweaters and thick-framed black glasses that were the target of ridicule in movies like the 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds are now as commonplace on TV shows as jocks and models.

“Now we realize that there’s so much power in nerd culture, [from] video games [to] films,” he added.

Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, stars of the Revenge of the Nerds movie franchise and co-producers of TBS’s King of the Nerds, told Multichannel News that viewers are more accepting of nerd culture and are seeking them out on television. King of the Nerds will follow seven contestants as they complete various tasks in order to win the grand prize of $100,000.

“We’re finding nerds everywhere — on television, in advertising, in print and radio — it seems you can’t watch anything without a nerd character in it,” Carradine said, adding that even President Obama is considered a nerd, compared to previous presidents.

“If ever there was a time in history when nerds were ruling the world, I’d say this is it,” he added.


The rise of “nerd culture” has inspired a slew of new cable series.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.