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.
"Nerdist stuff is really just the purest expression of fanboy-ism,'' says Hardwick. "And it's not engineered. We are that way.''
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