Reader Jurgan notified me about the scandal currently unfolding regarding Channel Awesome, an online media company that hosts video shows revolving around movies, TV, comic books, videogames, and other stuff of geek interest, the best known of which is probably The Nostalgia Critic. Jurgan writes [posted with his permission]:
I don’t think you’re aware of Channel Awesome, but there’s a lot of allegations coming out about their shady business practices. I was hoping you could help spread the story, as you’ve been fighting for a while against the trend of creative professionals being coerced into working for “exposure” rather than money (I stopped reading HuffPost because of you). In addition, I have a feeling there’s a decent overlap between your readership and theirs. If you’re willing, I’ve attached a brief summary which you can feel free to copy/paste on FF or elsewhere. I’m just mad about the betrayal of trust and exploitation, and I want to bring it to others’ attention.
I’m interrupting here to note that, as Jurgan suspects, I had never heard of Channel Awesome before, and also — as I said in an email reply to him — I’m pretty sure I’ve never said or implied that anyone has ever been “coerced” into working for free. I have no doubt that everyone who contributed to HuffPo did so willingly, and I’m pretty sure that’s the case with CA as well. I mean, there haven’t been any allegations of slavery, as far as I can tell.
But it’s never a good idea to work for free for someone else’s for-profit venture. The only person you should ever work free for is yourself… as this CA story is demonstrating (yet again).
More from Jurgan:
The Nostalgia Critic is a character that was created by Doug Walker, his brother Rob, and a behind-the-scenes executive named Mike Michaud. Doug has been portraying the character since 2007 in online videos where he humorously riffs on bad movies and TV shows, usually ones that were popular in the youth of Xers and Millennials. The Walkers and Michaud launched That Guy With the Glasses, now known as Channel Awesome, and attracted dozens of other people to create video reviews of other media. It turns out that none of the creators outside of the core group ever got paid for having their video listed, instead counting on the site to direct traffic to their personal websites and hopefully getting ad revenue or Patreon money. This was possibly understandable in the early days when the site was small, but it grew to a corporation with an operating budget around $1 million, and yet still none of that money went to most of the people on the site.
Many of the creators have been severing ties in recent weeks and telling all on Twitter. In addition to the financial issues, there was apparently a whole culture of exploitation, abuse, and (sometimes sexual) harassment. Creators were forced to produce faster than feasible. One woman describes working every day for years and then being fired when she missed a day while recovering from surgery. Michaud displayed contempt for female creators and allowed Mike Ellis, a man who appears to have had a history of sexual harassment and stalking, to hold a powerful position. Also they were encouraged to travel to Chicago to participate in Doug Walker’s vanity projects, which were managed with an almost Tommy Wiseau level of incompetence and hostility. People were forced to work 18 hour days in a hot attic with no water and several people were injured during stunts, after which they were forced to sign contracts promising not to sue for damages. This is all just allegations, but there are a ton of witnesses who all basically agree. Doug Walker presents himself as a lovable goofball, but there’s a dark side to the whole enterprise that is just now being revealed. I was a fan, but I don’t think I can ever watch it again knowing what I know.
CA contributors have been discussing these things on Twitter using the hashtag #ChangeTheChannel. There is also a long post and subsequent discussion on the board ResetEra, as well as a very long Google Doc (here’s a condensed version) with a lot more detail.
There’s a bit of a learning curve if you’re not already familiar with CA and its personalities and the shows. But it’s tough not to see this as part of the ongoing reckoning with toxic fandom and the rampant misogyny in media that started last autumn.
Are you a fan of CA’s projects? If so, what do you make of this unraveling?