Nerds seek to become legends

Public access opens doors for local dreamers

By Tom Benton

Staff Writer

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS  — Inside a television studio, tucked into the back of Bellows Free Academy, two self-proclaimed nerds discuss such nerdy topics as superhero movies and video games in front of the camera.

“People expect Wayne’s World,” James Cross said. “That’s not it at all.”

Cross and longtime pal Andrew Girroir are the “Wayne and Garth” of Legend of the Nerds, Cross and Girroir’s bi-weekly talk show on Northwest Access TV. Wayne and Garth, immortalized by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in two movies and countless Saturday Night Live skits, sat on a couch in their basement, looking between two cameras run by their equally left-of-center pals. In the first movie, Rob Lowe plays a sleazy big-time TV producer who gives the guys a primetime talk show, which proves too big, with all its technological capabilities and behind-the-scenes obligations, for them to comprehend.

That was the 1990s. The local access of today is a perfect blend of that basement authenticity and those big-time capabilities — as evidenced by the Legend of the Nerds.

Cross and Girroir have no TV or video production experience. They met at Domino’s Pizza, where Girroir was a delivery person and Cross an assistant manager. They bonded over a mutual love of wrestling.

Their workplace conversations pooled into a still-flowing stream of discussion, which has come to include comic books, TV series and other once-subcultural topics that have surfaced in the mainstream over the past decade.

They left Domino’s, but their chats continued through Cross’s time at Blockbuster Video, where he and Girroir spent all day talking and watching movies.

In today’s landscape of innumerable podiums — be it podcasts, YouTube channels or Internet blogs — it’s not surprising the self-proclaimed “nerds” decided to take their conversation to the public.

But it might seem surprising that they chose what to many might seem an obsolete forum — the local access channel.

“Being public access, it’s free to use the studio as long as they like your show idea,” Girroir said. “They help you produce it, film it, everything. We just have to come up with the idea, write the scripts and sit down and just run our mouths.”

It would take years of tech collection and many thousands of dollars to replicate the studio’s capabilities — top-of-the-line cameras with multiple lenses, lighting equipment, high-end mics, Adobe editing software and mixing boards, which Northwest Access technology coordinator Ian Chase uses like a skilled DJ.

Then there’s Chase himself. The guys call him their honorary “third nerd,” but most of the time they call him their producer.

A producer is exactly what Chase is, shepherding the guys into new avenues of conversation. “He’s always coming to us and going, ‘Oh, did you hear about this, did you hear about this,’” Girroir said.

Chase is also the one who adds the technological experimentation, creating theme music, title cards and on-screen visual tricks, like inserting a Pokemon in the corner of the screen during a recent episode discussing “Pokemon Go.”

“James is a huge Dragonball fan,” Girroir said, referring to the popular Japanese anime franchise. “The guy who does the narrating on that television show and is a voice actor for the show, Kyle Hebert, Ian knows personally. He got ahold of him one day and said, ‘Look, they’re doing a Dragonball two-part episode. Would you narrate the show for them?’ We didn’t even know about this. This was a total surprise. So he narrated the show, and did voices for it — we were just all gung-ho, like, ‘Oh my god, this big Hollywood guy is actually doing something for our show.’”

Chase also accompanied Cross and Girroir to last year’s Vermont Comic-Con, where they conducted on-camera interviews with the likes of actors Brian O’Halloran, who starred in a number of Kevin Smith movies, most notably Clerks, and Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

With production like this, the way Girroir talks about Northwest Access — as though dealing with Universal Pictures, or 20th Century Fox — becomes more understandable.

Like when he talks about creating the show. “We pitched the idea to the studio, and they loved it.”

Therein lies the hidden value of a local studio like Northwest Access, operating like Steven Spielberg’s description of Hollywood, as a sort of “dream factory.” They make Cross and Girroir’s ideas reality, simple as that, with professional capabilities and a production quality that would be out of reach for any burgeoning YouTube user.

As “Legend of the Nerds” nears its 50th episode, Cross and Girroir eye a more mainstream popularity. They promote the show on YouTube, where one can watch archived episodes, Facebook and Twitter, and their series has also aired on local access stations in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. But they imagine a broader audience.

“The whole goal is to get that one little push, and then be on a huge broadcaster,” Girroir said. “I always say maybe we’ll start with PBS.”

Their latest episode, recorded Tuesday afternoon in the Northwest Access studio, located in a backroom of Bellows Free Academy St. Albans, begins with the standard introductions.

“My name is James. His name is—”

“I’m Andy.”

“What’s new in your world?”

“You ask me that every time—”

“Then you should know this by now!”

Before the hour-long episode’s end, the “nerds” will have caught up on the weekend’s box office take, which “tells you how bad Ghostbusters is,” reported a rumor that Nintendo is considering getting rid of game discs and returning to cartridges, like in the ‘90s — “But you’re constantly having to blow in it,” Girroir laments — and tentatively tackled Suicide Squad, which they will discuss in-depth in a few weeks, after they’ve given people time to see it.

“This isn’t a movie for young kids,” Girroir warns. “Please don’t take your kids to see Suicide Squad.”

“Just because it’s a DC, Marvel or comic book movie does not mean it’s okay for kids,” Cross stresses. “These are adult movies.”

Later, Cross decries the movie’s soundtrack, toward which, he suspects, most of the movie’s budget went. “It was a musical,” he says.

During the course of the episode, Cross reveals that he has been hired by a Burlington-based video game developer to write the story for a new “pre-apocalypse” game, titled “Zeta Paradox,” regarding which the developer is in conversations with Sony, Xbox and Nintendo.

Girroir mentions Cross’s job, managing a Burlington Radioshack, his family, four kids plus his wife, and asks, now that Cross has a video game to write, too — “Are you sure you don’t have too much going on?”

Cross laughs.

“Don’t worry,” he says, surrounded by cameras and lights. “This show is my number one priority, I promise you.”