Interview: infoMania's Conor Knighton talks behind-the-scenes, Twitter Overhype, Al Gore & Spencer Pratt


infomania_socialnerdiaConor Knighton produces and hosts infoMania, a TV show about all things media, pop culture, world news, and even politics. The show, which airs every Thursday on Current TV, was developed with Madeleine Smithberg (co-creator of The Daily Show) and is not the typical infotainment / clip show by any means.

Oh no, infoMania is brilliant, and it should be in a category of its own. Often funny and surprisingly intelligent, with several awesome segments like Sarah Haskins' "Target: Women" and Brett Elrich's "Viral Video Film School", as well as rants about people like Susan Boyle, well-compiled exposures of the media's affair with Twitter, and the occasional association of completely unrelated people like Gene Simmons and Sonia Sotomayor (who I agree, must have been separated at birth), infoMania is a show you can actually watch right now.. online.

So please do. And also make sure to check out Conor's blog and twitter feed.

1.You were the first person to appear on Current TV back in 2005 and you are now the host and executive producer of infoMania, which has been compared to "The Daily Show" and "The Soup". How did you get started and what was the road to infoMania like?

Initially, Current hired me to produce and host a show about the internet’s top rising searches.  We called it ‘Google Current’ because, uh, it was about Google and it aired… on Current.  We weren’t very creative back then.

I did that show for a while, and then a similar one with Yahoo – they were both short, 3 minute updates at the top of every hour.  At the time, Current was all about short form content.

However, it was a lot of running up and down to the studio all day, and we eventually convinced the network that a half-hour, once a week show would not only be a better outlet for us creatively, but would give our viewers something to tune into (or record) on a regular basis.

We played with a few formats, but eventually landed on what has become infoMania – a comedic and critical look at the chaotic world of the media.

2. How would you describe being employed by a company that is led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore? Is their some kind of green policy that you guys have to follow maybe?

There’s no policy per-se, but we try to keep the baby seal clubbing to a minimum, out of respect.

He’s a fan of the show, which makes me feel incredibly guilty.  There HAVE to be better uses of his time than watching my goofy ass tell jokes about Paris Hilton’s New BFF.

Mostly, I’ve just been impressed by what a cool, down to earth guy he is.  And he’s AMAZINGLY good with names - I don’t know how he does it.

3. You've poked fun at the way that broadcast TV has integrated Twitter. You also have claimed to only be on it because you are on TV. What do you really think about Twitter now that you've used it for a while?


conortwitter_socialnerdiaYou can’t pitch a cooking show these days without emphasizing how it’s going to integrate with twitter.  Twitter is all OVER TV, and most of the time, when you see anchors reading tweets on air, it just comes across as desperate.  Follow us!  We’re cool! Let’s read what’s on the TwitterBoard!  I think Twitter may have some future as a platform, but it’s certainly not the savior of television.

I do find it interesting as a real-time search engine – I’ve used twitter to figure out if that shake I just felt was actually an earthquake, or to check in on what people think about our show.  And I’ll occasionally pick up on interesting links/stories from the people I follow.  It’s not useless – it’s just overhyped.

4. How do you prepare for each InfoMania episode and how much time do you spend online or watching TV?

On Thursdays, just a couple of hours after we put the finishing touches on that night’s show, we have an all-hands meeting to prep for next week.  It never, ever ends.  Kind of like the fourth hour of the Today Show.

In those Thursday meetings, we try to make sure everyone is on top of what’s coming up – what shows are premiering, what are people buzzing about…  It’s also a chance for everyone from Producers to PAs to pitch ideas – this week, we’re taking a look at QVC, HSN, and the insanity that is televised home shopping.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are a mix of screening, writing, and shooting – we divvy up the watching, but everyone is online, passing clips back and forth.  It’s a hectic week, but we always manage to get a show out.

5. The web has made it easy for the whole world to share thoughts, photos and videos with anyone else. It is no surprise that Current TV is big into user-generated content (made by "VC2 Producers"). What do you think is the future of UGC content on TV and the web?

Some of the best content that’s ever aired on Current was sent in by our viewers – non-professionals who managed to shoot, edit, and produce a very compelling story that was ready to air ‘as-is.’

But, despite the cheapness and ubiquity of equipment, it’s still pretty damn HARD to make compelling TV.   Not everyone is good at it.  I think the future of UGC is in finding a way to mix the professional with the amateur – making sure the broadcast is still watchable while maintaining a diverse selection of stories and viewpoints.  As a network, that’s what Current tries to do.

6. With the way the web and TV are blending, do you think channels like Current TV will start producing shows based on web sites and blogs or is it more likely that it would produce shows intended only for the web?

The Rotten Tomatoes Show – Current’s crowd-sourced movie review show – was developed in partnership with that site and community.  It debuted earlier this year (it airs right after infoMania) – I think you’ll be seeing more of those types of partnerships on Current.

We’re in around 60 million homes as a television network – I’m sure we’ll develop more web-only content, but the focus now seems to be on finding ways to integrate the web with what we’re already doing on TV.

Also, most of our content is available across the web.  You can watch full infoMania episodes on our website, on youtube, on iTunes, and hopefully even more destinations very soon.

sarahhaskis_socialnerdia7. A few of the InfoMania "correspondents" attended Ivy League schools; Sarah Haskins went to Harvard, Brett Erlich went to Stanford, and you went to Yale. Is this some kind of conspiracy against regular schools or are Ivy Leaguers simply smarter + funnier?

Brett went to Stanford?  No way.  That dude eats paste and plays video games all day.   Not possible.

I don’t think there’s any conspiracy – as far as I know, none of us majored in “making fun of Spencer Pratt,” so I don’t know how much our educations really prepared us for what we do now.

8. You once appeared on an episode of Gilmore Girls. What was that like, and more importantly, are Yale girls really like Rory?

It really is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance, but it was a ton of fun.  I’m not sure if it even counts as acting, since I was playing a Yale student on the show.   But it was a total blast, and everyone was super nice to me.

I don’t know how typical of a student Rory was, but their sets were SUPER accurate.  There were little details in the classroom set that, while totally unnecessary, were impressively correct.  Props to the designer.

9. Glenn Beck has been warning about our road to socialism and Wired claims that the "new socialism" is actually social media. What do you think is the cause for the fascination about social everything in 2009?

I thought that Wired article was interesting.  I guess sites like Wikipedia, Flickr – they’re finally at the point where everyone is using them, sometimes multiple times a day.  It’s a part of our culture now.  Now that parents and grandparents have hopped on facebook, it seems like a lot more outlets are taking notice.

conorknighton_socialnerdia10. Are there any tech announcements or recent launches that you're excited about?

I’m debating whether I want to upgrade my iphone 3G to the 3Gs.  I was excited about Wolfram Alpha in theory, and I’ve played with it some – it’s impressive, but not something I find myself going back to on a regular basis.   And Project Natal looks pretty sweet.

If, very soon, there’s an especially crappy week of infoMania, that’s probably the week I bought the new Ghostbusters game for PS3.  I don’t game much, but I’m excited about that one.

 

11. You've been on Chelsea Lately, won $10K on Pyramid (hosted by Donny Osmond), and even hung out with the Numa Numa guy. What are the perks of being a "celebrity" and what have you found to be somewhat overrated?

Wow, what a bizarre resume.  I should have gone to law school.

I definitely don’t consider myself a celebrity.  The ‘perk,’ I guess, is that since I’m the guy on camera, I end up getting a lot of credit for each week’s episode.  But the truth is, there are actually all sorts of talented people working behind the scenes to make infoMania happen every week.

I don’t know any of their names, but they seem nice.

12. Any guilty media pleasures that people would not expect?

We watched a lot of “Deadliest Warrior” last week – it’s such a bizarre premise for a show, but I get a kick out of it.

conortv_socialnerdia13. What advice would you give to anyone interested in writing, hosting or producing a TV show?

Make sure it airs on Thursday mornings.  Because at that point, we’re pretty much done with infoMania – there’s no way we can make fun of you.

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.