Today’s post is a bit out of character for this blog – as this is less of a review and more of a recap of recent events involving Channel Awesome, a video review aggregate site. I’ve been contemplating something like this for the past month, but always backed away. However, on Thursday, new details came to light that shocked me, and within 48 hours, I had put this together. I let it sit for a day to see if a) I wanted to go through with this, or b) anything would change.
…wow, that escalated quickly.
Channel Awesome, once considered amongst the premiere entertainment sites on the internet, appears to be in its death throes. What started as a mere critical twitter thread from longtime and former contributors a month ago has exploded into a dramatic scandal that may very well drive the company out of business.
It is basically the real-life example of what TV Tropes (a site that had a love affair with CA) calls “Disaster Dominoes” – one thing leads to another, eventually resulting in a catastrophe. Change one factor, and CA still has something vaguely resembling dignity today, producing…
Oh, who am I kidding? This was gonna happen soon anyway. It’s just that, instead of a slow decline petering out through the rest of the decade, what was a slow decline suddenly went into top gear before hitting MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, and now Channel Awesome is effectively on death-watch. If The Simpsons is a show being kept alive in a vegetative state to milk any money possible from the franchise, Channel Awesome is likely skipping that state and heading straight to hospice care, spending its last days watching as the Walker brothers, the management, and contributors prepare to sue each other onto the dole.
In fact, let’s take a (somewhat opinionated) play-by-play of what exactly what the hell happened, particularly in the back half of the site’s existence.
(Warning: this is going to be quite long. However, it is also not meant to be exhaustive – we’re just getting some basics thrown down here.)
“Hello, I’m a Review Website. I parody it, so you don’t have to!” – The Launch and Zenith of Channel Awesome
The site got its start in 2008. Doug Walker had been posting opinionated movie recaps under the character of The Nostalgia Critic on Youtube for a year. I call them “opinionated recaps” because, well, that’s what they were. Nostalgia Critic showcases clips of the movie (initially from the 80s and 90s) in sequential order, overlaid with comic commentary on what’s going on. In effect, it (particularly at the start) was Mystery Science Theater 3000, except while MST3K‘s comedy was more intellectual and dry, Walker tends to the broad and overt, with the Critic being constantly angry and ready to tear stuff down. Or, in his case, shoot stuff up.
However, YouTube’s copyright policies constantly led to the videos being taken down. Getting tired of this, Walker (alongside his brother Rob) teamed up with a trio of former Circuit City employees – Bhargav Dronamraju, Mike Ellis, and Mike Michaud (the latter two will become particularly important) to create a website – That Guy With The Glasses. The Brothers Walker would be the public faces of the company, while the Circuit City Trio would be management. Videos would be embedded, eventually hosted by blip.tv, a website that offered better advertising opportunities and less strict copyright infringement laws. The only cost was that Doug Walker would have to sign over the Nostalgia Critic IP to Michaud, but at the time, it would serve to save him from financial ruin.
Indeed, The Nostalgia Critic and the site as a whole would prove to be a massive success at the start. If Wikipedia is to be believed, Walker’s shows alone are said to have made $53000 in Q3 2009 – meaning that Walker himself was able to live comfortably in the notoriously pricey Chicago metro area while not working a side job. (Oh, he quit his last job as a janitor in a… rather dramatic fashion.)
This, combined with other “angry” reviewers”, also provided inspiration for other video analysts. TGWTG would serve as a vehicle for many of these producers, particularly over the next four years. Pivotal figures included:
- Noah Antwiller (who had a similar show, The Spoony Experiment, focusing on gaming and sci-fi movies),
- Lewis Lovhaug (Atop the Fourth Wall, analyzing comic books under the pseudonym of Linkara),
- “Angry” Joe Vargas (video game reviews),
- Todd “In The Shadows” Nathanson (Todd in the Shadows, analyzing popular music while in silhouette),
- Kaylyn Saucedo (“MarzGurl”, slightly leaning to anime),
- Allison Pregler (initially “Obscurus Lupa”, analyzing low-grade cinema and television),
- Justin Carmichael (“JewWario”‘s You Can Play This, focusing on Japanese video games),
- Lindsay Ellis (The Nostalgia Chick, reviewing pop culture with an initial lean towards female-targeted nostalgia),
- Jacob Chapman (JesuOtaku’s analytical anime reviews);
- and Larry Bundy Jr. (Guru Larry, with lists of video game facts.)
Of course, that’s just to start. They posted their videos on the site, with the context that they were given “exposure”. In effect, they were not employees per se but got their videos distributed to increase their ad revenue and prevalence. The theory was that TGWTG could be a stepping stone to larger fame. In turn, increased clicks on the site to access these videos (because few people clicked on Blip itself) would grant TGWTG ad revenue from the site itself. It seemed like a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
However, just having these characters post content on the site wasn’t the limit. These content creators would occasionally do crossover reviews, teaming up to analyze/recap what was often a pan-genre (or an inter-genre) work. For example, Walker and Ellis teamed up to analyze FernGully, a 1990 animated movie that happened to have a female lead. Spoony, Lovhaug, and Walker would also team up to review Uwe Boll’s adaptation of Alone in the Dark. While slightly after the Nostalgia Critic‘s cutoff date, it still fit the characteristics of the trio’s output. This was just to start.
More particularly, though, That Guy With The Glasses was marketed as more than just a video aggregate. Indeed, it was seen as something of a community. To this end, the reviewers were seen to an extent as characters, exaggerated versions of themselves who would partake in actions that were seen as outside the realm of conventional behavior. (For example, The Nostalgia Critic character was a gun-toting manchild who had less than savory parents, Spoony was written as a sexual deviant, Linkara embarked on his own science-fiction themed adventures, and so on and so forth.) These all existed in a “review-a-verse”, as some analysts have described it – akin to Animaniacs, cited by Walker as one of his favorite TV series, with the characters often referring to past events that happened within the “canon”, but not in reality. It was scripted – bascially a comedy genre that had reviewers as the protagonists.
This wound up going a step further. Every year, during the first half of the site’s existence, producers for the site would team up for a special video. The first-anniversary video, The One-Year Anniversary Brawl, consisted of the then-current staff of TGWTG and another video aggregate site ScrewAttack, well, brawling. It really cemented this idea that the crew was a close-knit community, a bunch of mates doing what they loved.
The movies would get more elaborate with each successive year, often parodying genre fiction. The second anniversary, Kickassia, revolved around the producers taking over the micronation of Molossia before infighting tipped it all over, sending up political dramas. The third, Suburban Knights, was a quasi-pastiche of fantasy and adventure cinema, tracking down a McGuffin somewhere in suburban Chicago. The fourth, To Boldly Flee, was a semi-send up of Space Opera, with the crew escaping political oppression (the infamous Stop Online Piracy Act bill being the basis).
These movies gained a cult following amongst TGWTG fans for their ability to see the producers bounce off of each other, as well as the continuity between the films. One major aspect of these movies was that The Nostalgia Critic was at the center of every movie, however – much like That Guy With The Glasses almost invariably centered on Doug Walker’s characters and shows. This, combined with an arguable aloofness on Doug’s part, meant that many of the characters in the movies had more “goofy” characters compared to their often more subdued and snarky selves on the web shows. In effect, the movies had the characterizations of Teen Titans GO! with the drama of Steven Universe. (Yeah, go ahead and flame me for mentioning the two shows in the same sentence.)
But, despite some critique from outside sources at the time, the three movies had increasing returns from the fanbase. What could go wrong?
“Just Say The Line, Kid” – The Failure of Demo Real and the Quasi-Reinvention of the Nostalgia Critic
Well, is it safe to say everything?
Let’s start with To Boldly Flee. 2012 would prove to be the major turning point for That Guy With The Glasses itself. Out of fears that a bill such as SOPA would pass, many began to question their participation in video reviews. Among them were the Walkers, who decided to finally go all-in and produce original scripted content full-time. To Boldly Flee was intended to pass the torch from the Critic to Demo Reel, a project that Doug envisioned as his magnum opus and which was to serve as a satire on the Hollywood system. To this end, Channel Awesome wound up purchasing a studio in the Chicago Suburbs – effectively an office with a large warehouse in the back, although most of the filming would occur in the front office.
Unfortunately, the execution of the transition was not particularly well-handled. Besides the movie being a whopping three and a half hours long (putting it on par with Titanic), the cast was unaware of the changes until they read the script. And the script also gave off implications that the retirement of The Critic – the site’s main draw – would also be the end of the site as a whole. That’s it. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. Not even the fanbase knew that the thing was getting wrapped-up, with the exception of a few fans that looked into trends in the last reviews (Critic’s increased disillusionment, increased crossovers, the last episode downright ripping off “All Good Things”).
As a result, when it was announced after the movie that the Critic was dead, quite a few fans decided not to stay. Combine that with the fact that reception to Demo Reel was very mixed indeed – while there was some praise, the show also attracted a more vocal anti-fandom compared to the Critic, and this anti-fandom included a lot of TGWTG viewers who decide to jump ship. (Often cited as the zenith of that show’s failure was the Super Villain Shuffle, blasted for its shallowness within the parody and less than subline acting.)
Demo Reel, of course, wound up doing poorly enough to force the Nostalgia Critic back. Rather than have the two shows run concurrently, Walker decided to merge Demo Reel into The Nostalgia Critic, with the two actors from DR brought on (Malcolm Ray and Rachel Tietz) to do sketches revolving around parodying the subject of the movies (Tietz would later resign, replaced with Tamara Chambers). This, of course, pleased few, with the ending to Demo Reel being blasted as poorly thought out and a crude reaction to the show’s lack of success.
Reaction to these longer reviews was very mixed indeed – critique revolved around the abolition of the time limit, the sketches often interfering with the reviews themselves, said reviews being largely the same otherwise, the introduction of “golden moments” that had once been criticized in reviews such as Full House and A Troll in Central Park, the removal of a lot of the Critic’s virtues (a protector of children, for starters) and transformation into a more deranged and bitter character, and more importantly, a blurring of the distinctions between Doug Walker and his character. In spite of this, the videos have often passed the million hit mark, proving that the concept was still financially successful, at least in the short term.
Ninety Thousand Dollars and Everybody’s Leaving – Resignations, Death, the Sack, and IndieGoGo
Meanwhile, the community aspect that had been marketed as the big draw behind Channel Awesome started to fray publically. In May 2012, Noah “Spoony” Antwiller, having encountered mental health problems through career, used his Twitter account to relay an inappropriate joke regarding Jacob “JesuOtaku” Chapman (who identified at the time as Hope Chapman) and his relationship with then-partner Nash Bozard (Radio Dead Air host).
A month afterward, Allison Pregler brought up the joke as a rationale for why he shouldn’t be pitied, and a series of events lead to Spoony encountering a major breakdown and his eventual resignation from the site (as in, management told him to control himself or leave). The TGWTG fandom divided as to who was more in the wrong. That said, he did take the blame for his failings there. (Just for the record, Spoony would slip back into a malaise circa late 2014, and his output has slowed to a trickle, leading to calls into an investigation of his Patreon.) Nevertheless, the idea of a Channel Awesome fraternity took a sledgehammer, as one of the pillars of the site had effectively left due to infighting with other producers.
It was publically recovered (at least partially) in January 2014, when contributor Justin “JewWario” Carmichael, who himself left the site in February 2013, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The reaction was an outpouring of grief from not only fans, but also many producers on and off the site, several of whom still displayed his iconic Wario hat in videos as a tribute. Videos were produced lamenting Justin as one of the friendliest, kindest people on the entire internet, making his death (and the cause thereof) especially tragic.
A year later, however, would see that sense of fraternity undermined again. On January 13th, 2015, Allison Pregler was sacked from the site. In a blog post, Pregler not only noted a hypocrisy behind her firing (she was kicked for not being immediately present for a Skype call, despite claiming the lethargy of response from Chicago in other affairs) but claimed that she was verbally attacked by Mike Michaud for her use of midrolls and promotion of Patreon. She argued it was necessary to pay her bills (not helping was the decline of traffic towards CA due to the brief cancellation of Nostalgia Critic), and Doug Walker is said to have suggested increasing her output, in spite of her producing videos on a consistent basis for years. In the wake of her firing, her boyfriend Phelan Porteus (Phelous) elected to depart the site as well, revealing in his blog post behind the scenes drama involving the editing of To Boldly Flee – a harbinger of things to come.
That, combined with the resignation of two other producers, were all covered in one simple post on the site.
Pure class – using the phrase “we would like to announce”, misspelling a producer’s name, and framing it as leaving on their own volition. Kinda makes you think they wanted them gone in the first place. In hindsight, this should’ve been the first sign that Channel Awesome was a two-bit operation that thought it was Netflix.
At the same time, Lindsay Ellis, having evolved her show into a more analytical stance, also decided to resign and retire the “Nostalgia Chick” name. The irony of a woman meant to be the distaff counterpart to the site’s flagship evolving beyond the use of Channel Awesome cannot be understated. Three months before, Jacob Chapman decided to retire from review-based video production. He would later cite his gender dysphoria as the underlying cause of some personal troubles that led to his own retirement (a dysphoria he admitted to himself the year after his resignation, coming out publically as transgender in January 2016), although he has made several statements critical of site management in the years since.
But the boat was only rocked this time – the site had a recruitment drive the year before, meaning that new figures (for example, theme park reviewer Tony “Some Jerk With A Camera” Goldmark) came on. So things looked more like a shift with the times compared to a collapse.
But the seas were choppy.
Now, remember what I said about lethargy? Well, it appeared to affect every aspect of their company. It took several years to switch to a new website, one that contained many of the same issues as the old (for one, an overt focus on Doug Walker and a rather confusing layout).
The worst part is that lethargy is the optimistic view of the site’s decline. The pessimistic view is that they only avoided breaking the law in most cases through sheer technicalities.
Two years before Pregler was dismissed, the site also decided to launch an IndieGoGo fundraiser. You see, they blew all this money on this studio, expecting unparalleled success for the site’s future. This was back in August 2012. Take a lucky guess what happened to the site’s finances at the time. Naturally, they tried plan B – creating the IndieGoGo campaign to not only prepare the studio for full-blown use, but also to create new original content for the website, including a pop culture related quiz show.
$50000 was the goal, and the site managed to raise a grand total of $89757. (The current national debt per citizen is around $64000. Make of that what you will.) So, what happened? Pop Quiz Hotshot (a title ripped from Speed – please just watch that Father Ted parody instead) required several takes just to get a pilot underway. The pilot was hosted by Brad Jones, who lives clear across the state. The end result was a production that looked quite cheap, seemed to be filled with apathy, did not utilize the studio that the campaign was said to be for, and many more. Some internet fora suggested that the campaign was one embezzlement fund, meant to pay off outstanding debts.
After the first episode, the show was retooled somewhat – with The Nostalgia Critic (again) turned into the host, and the energy ramped up. Twelve episodes out of a proposed forty were made before the show was dropped, and it has been suggested that the amount was only produced to get lawyers off of Channel Awesome’s back.
The site continued on largely unabated for almost three more years. During that time, however, changes were going on around the site. Blip was brought by Maker Studios before being shut down. Most of the contributors wound up migrating over to YouTube, which by that point had become somewhat more liberal with copyright and removed the formal time limit.
Even so, the world around them was changing. RedLetterMedia had perfected the video discussion format. While Walker was a fan of Siskel and Ebert, Half in the Bag felt more like a spiritual successor compared to Sibling Rivalry, and all with a bare-bones budget. (Likewise, Mr. Plinkett’s Reviews managed to come off more as an essay on a movie’s faults compared to NCs recaps, with a character distinct enough in how vile his actions are while not mitigating his analysis.) This was followed by I Hate Everything, a series by a British YouTuber called Alex who has tried to “Search for the Worst” movie with his own analytical eye. Even CA alumni began to distinguish themselves from their Critic-influenced past.
Slowly, the Nostalgia Critic became an anachronism. The largest change was the addition of Clipless Reviews to tackle movies currently in theaters, although this again brought back the specter of the controversial Demo Reel and made people contemplate why the Nostalgia Critic was parodying these films.
Not helping was that the slow eradication of the “friendship” mentality led to a more jaundiced eye laid at the movies. Issues that seemed forgivable or downright charming at the time – the effects, the scripting, the acting – slowly became less tolerated as details about the production were leaked. Phelous, in particular, once called To Boldly Flee “the worst movie in the universe” for that reason. (Ironically, both Pregler and Walker reviewed the infamous The Room, even fighting a copyright battle, and many have argued that they prefer that movie over To Boldly Flee for sheer entertainment value alone. Then again, a bad drama like The Room is often considered more redeemable than a bad comedy.)
Still, the site remained stagnant, declining slowly, but not dramatically. The Nostalgia Critic was still getting some media attention and had plenty of fans sing Doug Walker’s praises. It seemed like it would get past its 10th anniversary, and maybe ride into the 2020s.
That is, until 5:11 PM, Eastern Time, March 13th, 2018.
Laertes, Obscura – Allison Pregler and Kaylyn Saucedo Kick-Start The Collapse of CA
Despite having left the site three years prior, Allison Pregler still had the specter of Channel Awesome member above her head – as is the way of everybody else. Likewise, people began asking her about ties to the NC, parallels between the two reviewers, etc. On March 13th, one particular Twitter user asked her about what inspired Walker to take a darker tone in his review of It. Allison Pregler, having had an acerbic split from Channel Awesome, finally had enough.
The first domino is always the smallest. With her followers intrigued, she decided to reiterate her less than stellar experience. This was followed by others formally associated with Channel Awesome – Kaylyn “MarzGurl” Saucedo, Lindsay Ellis, and former PR associate Holly Christine Brown – blasting the site’s management for sexism, poor communication, and obstructive business practices… and that was before Lewis Lovhaug (“Linkara”) got in on the action, confirming the poor production of the movies. Former producers critiquing the site was bad enough. Then-present presenters blasting the site? Something was going on.
Now, a lot of what was discussed had been discussed before, whether by the content creators themselves or via speculation on internet fora. But this time, lightning seemed to strike hard.
And there’s a simple reason why – this fine upstanding fellow over in Los Angeles.
For those living under a rock since the start of October 2017, film mogul Harvey Weinstein – already blasted by many filmmakers for his acerbic personality – has been accused of sexual harassment and rape by several women. This high-profile exposure of a sexual predator and the aftershocks (Weinstein getting a brutally ironic blacklisting from Hollywood and facing arrest) kicked off what is referred to on Wikipedia as the Weinstein Effect, where several men and women accused superiors (largely, albeit not exclusively, men) of sexual misconduct on the job. Entertainers caught up in these scandals included Loud House creator Chris Savino, House of Cards star Kevin Spacey (who tried to downplay the initial accusation by claiming he may have acted improperly while drunk and coming out simultaneously, much to everybody’s chagrin), comedian Louis C.K., and Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine. They were promptly fired from their jobs, with projects in development buried or finished with replacements.
More importantly, it appears to reflect a paradigm shift in the treatment of workers across the west. Abuses of power and the ignorance thereof once considered commonplace have now become challenged vocally. What, you thought that Weinstein was just the guy that started #MeToo? Heh, you wish.
The rumors about Channel Awesome now had a more favorable atmosphere to the producers. The skeptical eye levied against accusations in the past might not be gone, but it has been lessened. At the very least, the supportive hand is now stronger. And this time, CA was going to pay with gusto.
One after the other, producers began to resign from the site. The first major blow came on March 22nd, when Todd in the Shadows decided to part ways, albeit framing it in a “time to move on” way. However, an even larger blow came two days later, when Lovhaug – about as much a pillar as Antwiler – announced his own resignation, citing an inability to influence management in a positive way. Their videos were promptly and abruptly removed from the site, all but confirming the accusations of callousness from upper management.
And one by one, the dominoes fell. In between March 22nd and April 2nd, eight producers (including the aforementioned) resigned. On the latter date, Allison Pregler and Kaylyn Saucedo released the second body blow to Channel Awesome in a month.
Thus, we got the famous Google Doc Not So Awesome. Dozens of pages ripping Channel Awesome to shreds.
While some elements of the document have been criticized (with a jaundiced eye revolving around Dan Olson-related accusations), what was corroborated in print by most producers appears to have been commonplace:
- Misogynistic, callous, and all-around acerbic behavior on Mike Michaud’s part, not challenged by the Brothers Walker:
- Incompetence and failure to complete basic clerical work:
- Doug Walker coming off as self-centered in business management and scripting:
- Inability to comprehend social media:
- Failure to pay funds that were promised:
- Coercion into taking part in the Anniversary Specials:
- Overestimating their popularity and underestimating finances (they wanted the new site to be built by the same group that built The White House website, and were appalled that they wanted $50000. By the way, their new site is routinely criticized):
- Sexual harassment on the part of Mike Ellis, who left the site well before 2018, and who’s sacking led to Holly being kept in a safe house:
- Firing their HR/PR/what-have-you guru (Holly) a day after surgery, with Doug Walker being the deciding vote to sack her, and forcing her to sign a non-compete to get her severance:
- Wretched filming of the movies (with several producers and actors having their lives threatened. Jeez, even The Room had a better track record):
- Failure to established the promised InkedReality site and shutting down Blistered Thumbs after only a few years without warning:
- Favoritism (READ: DOUG WAS GOD AND GOD WAS DOUG)…
You get the gist here. On top of that, a Jane Doe accused an unnamed producer of grooming her and CA being lethargic in their response. That’s definitely not a good look, especially in a post-Weinstein world.
Sensing a PR crisis, Channel Awesome decide to respond to this madness. This response was, well, less than stellar…
The kicker was the line “we sincerely regret you felt that way.” It almost would’ve been better if they had not apologized at all. In effect, Channel Awesome – once promoted as the antithesis of old media – reacted with an attempt at spin and PR that even Peter Mandelson would consider too egregious. Except that this time, it backfired. Big time.
Over the next week and a half, many of the remaining producers would resign from the site. Starting at 40 in early March, the list numbered no more than ten within a week and change of that first statement. Subscribers who saw that tweet also began to look into what exactly CA was talking about, and what they discovered didn’t exactly please them. They abandoned ship rapidly, causing the company to bleed out well over a thousand YouTube subs per day.
Still, that controversy seemed like something that could have been overcome. At the very least, odds are it would’ve fallen by the wayside within a couple of weeks. CA would’ve stumbled on, albeit with a reduced contributor count, and the site might have been able to mitigate the damage.
And then they lost a sponsor on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 11th – that being Black Tux.
That night, at around 11:33PM, the website published a second response that managed to both send the scandal onto a new horrifying level, cast a new shadow on the #ChangeTheChannel crew, and might very well be looked at as the moment that dealt the fatal blow to Channel Awesome.
What is Done in the Dark – The Exposure of JewWario
Unlike the first response, which demonstrated a mere insensitivity and aloofness on CA’s part, the second response could only be described as doubling down at its most extreme. The site seemed to go point-by-point on the critique raised in the Not So Awesome document, and downright calling the accusations baseless and false.
Naturally, this response was also blasted. For one, with one exception, only the women critics were blasted (and even counteracted the accusations of sexism by mentioning that Tamara Chambers has a good experience). Secondly, most of the points argued by CA (such as the termination of Holly being constructed as a resignation) were refuted by everybody and the kitchen sink. Those alone were the height of insensitivity there.
I would even argue that the only reason why Kevin Spacey’s press statement on his recent controversies could be considered worse was his apparent attempt to hide in the LGBT community by coming out. (They kindly tossed him back into the anteater pit.)
Could it get any worse?
Well, thanks to Mike Michaud being incompetent at damn near everything, yes, it would. Because, in his infinite wisdom, when discussing the separation of the producer accused of sexual assault (claiming he acted within weeks instead of the purported year), he forgot to cover three pixels. One thing led to another, and internet analysts put together one name.
As in, Justin Carmichael.
As in, JewWario.
As in, the guy whose suicide led to the Reviewaverse entering deep mourning, posting tribute videos en masse.
In case you’re not getting it, this guy.
Immediately, speculation began – could it be that Carmichael was the one who tried to groom the fan in question? Technically, what the producer did was not pedophilia – the fan was eighteen, legal across the United States – but her immaturity made a particularly questionable situation especially dodgy. (Besides that, Carmichael had a wife who, by all accounts, heard his death.) Concern was immediately raised, although initially, it was overshadowed by the sheer tone-deafness of the press release.
What’s notable is that, in the chat log that Michaud talks about the Jane Doe not wanting to file a formal complaint. Which, of course, leads to questions – what can you charge the person with? Again, he Jane Doe in the Google Doc was 18, meaning that statutory rape charges would not be possible. Worst you could get was sexual harassment, which isn’t a crime in and of itself, although one could vaguely argue coercion… sort of. That doesn’t make what Carmichael did with her alright; it just makes it that he didn’t commit any actual crime in that regard, at least not from a glance.
So what would they get Carmichael on to fire him? Improper behavior is one possibility. Well, it turns out, improper would be an understatement.
At 10:54 AM, somebody started a thread on the Channel Awesome subreddit, guessing that either the rabbit hole went deeper or that CA was trying to slander the name of a dead guy. Many people hoped for the latter. At 1:30PM, they got their answer, and it would throw the internet into chaos.
Yup, this was a second unnamed woman who directly accused Carmichael of sexual assault. Not harassment – sexual assault. This was magnitudes worse. Two hours later, Holly Christine confirmed the report to be accurate.
Suddenly, rumors about Carmichael’s behavior at conventions – such as flirting with underaged women – resurfaced, and questions began flying about whether or not there might be more victims of his behavior.
Once the shock over that abated enough, questions began flying. The second response all but confirmed that Carmichael was sacked over the sexual misconduct allegations. However, he was allowed to leave on his own terms, and after his death, Doug Walker produced a tribute video while Mike Michaud told another contributor not to bother since it wouldn’t bring in the views.
The question now becomes… was there an attempt to brush it under the rug, not just from upper management, but from the contributors to the document themselves?
Holly Christine was the Human Resources director. Carmichael was fired in February 2013 – months before she was sacked. She should have very well informed the public that Carmichael was fired for inappropriate public behavior. My question is why didn’t she inform the public? Was it to protect the company’s reputation? Because for a company that produced a show dedicated to mocking Hollywood, that sounds like something that a stereotypical big production company would do.
If there was a rape accusation, she appears to have done the minimum required of her job – report it to upper management and little else. They call that doing the bare minimum, and past examples of that have invariably damaged the reputation of those that did just that. One could argue that his suicide the year after removed him as an active threat, but the failure to at least indicate to the public that he was fired for his behavior is not exactly the best look for her.
I’m not defending her firing nor the way that the central office handled it. I’m saying why? Why did he remain on the site for so long? And why did these serious accusations go unreported to the public, particularly by the head of Human Resources?
(Edit, 8:00PM 4/15/18: Thanks to commenter Jack Christmas below, the possibility that she might have been coerced into silence must be taken into account. She has apologized for any actions that she took while employed by CA, as well.)
And on that note… why did Doug produce a tribute video for a man that management fired for being a sexual predator? Was Doug out of the loop?
Well, he was enough in the loop to be the deciding vote to throw a post-surgery Holly out on her ass. Oh, and during the post that railed against the former producers, a chatlog was revealed concerning how they were going to let Justin go.
Guess who showed up in the chat.
Yup – Doug Walker was at the very least aware that Rob and Mike were gunning to fire him. You could argue that he didn’t believe the accusations, and that’s why he just wanted to question Justin rather than sack him. The point is, however, he made a video for a man suspected of sexual offenses. To say that’s not a good look would be the understatement of the decade.
Also, who else knew? Some producers have claimed that they were left out of the loop. Others claimed to have had inklings (but only just) but decided not to speak up for political reasons. And as indicated in the Reddit post above, the victim has claimed that one of the women that produced the document for not listing her complaint. This would have meant that either Allison Pregler or Kaylyn Saucedo ignored a complaint of serious sexual assault. To quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “A lie of omission is still a lie.” Even though the victim has claimed to have no hard feelings in the resultant thread, it’s did not seem like a really good look for the #ChangeTheChannel side and made them come off to some eyes as hypocrites trying to merely defend their own side and make it as pristine as possible.
(Edit 8:00PM 4/15/18: Thanks to commenter Jack Christmas below, I have been informed that Pregler’s failure to include said Jane Doe was not intentional. Likewise, the document’s refusal to formally name Carmichael was done at the request of the Jane Doe mentioned – his apparent behavior was exposed thanks to Michaud and the aforementioned Reddit thread.)
(Edit 10:00 AM 4/16/18: Kaylyn Saucedo released a YouTube video last night, in which she noted that she had no knowledge of Carmichael’s actions before the doc was posted, and that she obscured Justin’s name in the document at the victim’s request to try and protect other victims from harassment. It definitely shines a new light on the silence that the former producers had – that it came out of shock and a desire to stop the harassment of victims, not to protect themselves.)
The vibe I’m getting, ultimately, is that 99% of the producers outside of the Chicago office had little knowledge of Carmichael’s actual behavior – at worst, just thinking he was quite flirty. And most of the discussion regarding the behavior was just brushed off as pure rumors. The fact that the truth was worse than suspected is something that many of the producers are certainly digesting, and will for quite a long time, especially as quite a few followers of the crisis will quiz them for the foreseeable future.
But don’t think slip-ups, actual or alleged, from the #ChangeTheChannel crowd mitigates the Chicago office at all. They tried to sweep under the rug the alleged actions of a possible sexual predator, venerated him in his death, and only revealed what happened thanks to sheer incompetence. That, in no uncertain terms, is disgusting. In years past, the company would have gotten large amounts of flack. In a #TimesUp world? This was, in hindsight, corporate suicide.
(In layman’s terms, while I think #ChangeTheChannel has to answer some questions, they are morally quite a ways above Chicago.)
The most damning thing about this, again, was the near veneration of Carmichael himself after his death. His “you are not stupid” speech (sage advice on its own, mind you) had become one of the prime motivators on the internet, and he otherwise gained a reputation as the heart of Channel Awesome. With that heart revealed to have been a sexual predator, the entire troupe – or at least, the visage of it – took on a much darker atmosphere. In a way, it was symbolic of the entire website – something that appeared so brilliant and motivating was in fact corrupted. Carmichael’s exposure just puts a human face, a symbol, to the site’s collapse. He was there at the site’s zenith, left during the start of its decline, died in the middle, and his exposure as a sex offender corresponds with the rapid degeneration.
I Know Saint Ebert Won’t Call My Name – Conclusion
If the first response was a self-inflicted body blow to Channel Awesome, the second was tripping over a judge that will preside over their capital trial. Within 24 hours of that leak, most of the remaining contributors resigned. By Friday the 13th, the last remaining contributors were Brad Jones (a close friend of the Walkers, although even he started to distance himself from the site) and GuruLarry (an oft-overlooked member of CA who stayed on to spite the site for it’s extreme Doug focus and just to watch it all collapse from the inside.) It says something when the latter might come out of this mess relatively untainted, as he fully admits that he’s just there for the honor of being the last man standing, and is doing it as a unique “screw you” to the powers that be.
Or as I like to call it, pulling a Demo Reel.
The forums have been closed down given that the mods also bailed out, the producers have all but left, those that aren’t doing the standard “time to move on” have thrown enough at the site to ward off advertisers. Seriously, if I was advertising and I found out about what this site did, I’d be pulling my ads as quickly as possible. It’s pretty hard to come back from anything involving sexual assault, especially if a cover-up is involved, and particularly if there are rumors revolving around pedophilia.
Financially, the company has made misstep after misstep after misstep. Because they don’t sell public stock, they can operate behind closed doors. However, given the inability to transition from Critic to Demo Reel and the failure to use a studio they brought in Suburban Chicago (which ain’t cheap real estate), plus the company’s sponsors hi-tailing it like drunkards in a dry county, I would suspect any accountant tied to CA is likely halfway through a bottle of Dewers brought sometime last week.
The kicker? Even if Doug Walker was just a fool who is starting to realize that the company did some screwed-up things, it’s not like he can bail. He does not own the Nostalgia Critic IP. That is company property, and Mike Michaud has majority shares, from what I’ve heard. He would have to buy it back, and given Michaud’s arrogance, I don’t see how he’s going to sell it. Unless Channel Awesome goes bankrupt and has to auction off everything but the kitchen sink for bottom dollar, in which case, Doug Walker could theoretically buy the IP.
And what would he get? The flagship character of a company that is now widely loathed for its arrogance, incompetence, favoritism, sexism, hypocrisy, and the covering up of a potential sexual predator.
I’m not saying that Doug Walker won’t survive. Hey, you still see people defend Joe Paterno, and he covered up a sex abuse scandal that was far worse. (As in, “the guy that did it faced 442 years and only got thirty just because the judge wanted to mock him by making it just long enough to be an effective life sentence” worse.) If he manages to escape, he will still have a legion of fans that will hail every word and proclaim every video the greatest.
But the era where he was the be-all end-all of film criticism on the internet, if it wasn’t over already, might have just come to a crashing end. Disillusioned fans will likely find other sources of film and pop culture critique, and most of them might never go back to the works of Walker and Company. Newer viewers will likely catch some wind of what happened with CA and walk away. Besides, with ad revenue almost certainly cut down, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tamara and/or Malcolm are let go.
And no matter what, it won’t be with me.
Personally speaking, I don’t think I can separate the art from the artist in this case, because the art has become the artist and vice-versa. The Nostalgia Critic, in my eyes, has been fatally undermined, and if I ever get the desire to watch another episode, it will always have that nagging specter in the back of my mind.
Channel Awesome is pretty much done, if not technically, then spiritually. Here is the SocialBlade subscriber count as of Saturday, circa 5:00 PM:
Much of the site’s former fandom is checking out in disgust. The producers are all but gone. The sponsors are fleeing. Their store is closed “for maintenance”. Even TVTropes, a site that practically hailed CA as the height of new culture, appears to be shifting (slowly) into a state of “the emperor has no clothes”. My prediction is that the site itself will be lucky to make it into summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the company is wound up by the end of the year. And these are relatively generous estimates.
There is no coming back from this.
And there are no winners. Much as I am largely on their side, the #ChangeTheChannel crowd will likely face “did you know” questions for at least the next few months. Justin Carmichael’s public image has been irrevocably destroyed, and his videos and nuggets of wisdom have been undermined. His victims will almost certainly never get legal closure. Mike Michaud has been exposed as an incompetent sociopath, and the same can likely be said for Rob. And Doug Walker’s public image as a nice, goofy guy is almost certainly shot now. At best, he’s a naive fool who stagnated in his art. At worst, he’s an egotistical, hypocritical manchild.
You want to know the real kicker? Remember at the top, when I offhandedly mentioned that Walker quit his job in a rather dramatic fashion? Well, would you hire that guy that actually escaped security? Especially if you found out half the stuff mentioned in this blog post? If Channel Awesome’s takes The Nostalgia Critic down with it, he will likely have to start from the bottom of any corporate ladder.
Ironic for a man who was once quoted as saying that he wanted Chicago to be the Internet’s answer to Hollywood. Well, you were right, in more ways than one.
Channel Awesome will likely go down as the prime example of how not to manage human resources, how not to manage public relations, and how not to construct a company, period. That will be its largest legacy.
Nothing beside will remain.
…there. I had to get that off my chest. My next review will be that of Steven Universe‘s “When it Rains”, because damn it, I need something cheerful to watch now.