The Fall and Rise of Leo Laporte
The Internet is considered by some to be both the future and the end of traditional media. Many new players are entering the podcast market every day, and most new shows fail within the first few episodes. Not so with any show produced by the TWiT network. From Steve Gibson’s Security Now to the usual gang of fanboys on MacBreak Weekly, TWiT podcast always show up at the top of iTunes’s podcast directory and are enjoyed by thousands of geeks. But what is TWiT, and how did it come to be? To know that, you first have to ask “Who is Leo Laporte?”
Leo Laporte, the self-appointed “tech guy,” began his media career in 1991 when he co-created and co-hosted Dvorak on Computers with John C. Dvorak. He developed and hosted several other radio programs over the years (including his current program The Tech Guy which broadcast on KFI and the Premiere Radio Networks) but he was barely known until NBC decided to collaborate with Microsoft to create a 24-hour cable news network.
MS-NBC launched in 1996, and in 1997 he developed the classic tech show The Site. Hosted by Soledad O’Brian (of CNN fame), it featured Laporte as the first live 3D-Animated character (Dev Null). His performance would earn him an Emmy, which made the cancellation of the show less than a year after it was first broadcast an even harder blow.
Laporte rebounded quickly, however, and in 1998 he created what may be his most famous show to date: The Screen Savers for ZDTV (which was later renamed TechTV). Along with many big names in the tech news sector (Kevin Rose, Alex Albrecht, Martin Sargent, and Sarah Lane to name a few) The Screen Savers quickly became well-know in tech circles as the smartest technology program on the air. Laporte also co-hosted Call for Help, a call-in tech support show which had a loyal following. This following would lay the foundation for what was to come later.
In 2004 Laporte was ousted from his position on TechTV because of a dispute with the owners of the channel. The ScreenSavers was re-branded Attack of the Show and continues to air to this day. It’s more of a “pop culture” show than The Screen Savers was. Many fans of the show left when Leo did. He re-located to Vancouver, BC and started a new version of Call for Help called The Lab with Leo Laporte. By March 2008 that show was also canceled.
This succession of failures should have spelled the end for Laporte, forever doomed to be nothing more than a radio pundit. Luckily, Laporte had culled a huge audience of like-minded geeks due to his friendly delivery and high journalistic standards. When he decided to begin a Podcast (This Week in Tech, or TWiT) with his old friends from The Screen Savers it instantly became one of the top podcasts on the net. This encouraged Laporte, and within a few years he built a network of over a dozen popular podcast. He now broadcasts a live video stream from the studio, and has hosted famous guest from LeVar Burton to Wil Wheton to Steve Wozniak.
In 2009 Laporte announced a move from simply “netcasting” to delivering TWiT content to televisions throughout North America on the Roku Digital Video Player, as well as net-enabled HDTV’s.
While Laporte’s career may be said to be filled with one impressive failure after another, those failures have allowed him to become one of the biggest names in technology news. With new media deals to distribute TWiT into every living room is certain that his latest venture won’t be failing any time soon.