Back in summer, Travis Oates and I quit our jobs hosting "Arena" on G4.
Since then, I have been overwhelmed with emails from people, wanting to know why we quit.
It's a long story, but here's a very short version:
The producer I was working with was, in my opinion, an amateur. Horribly unprofessional, he treated me and my partner with shocking contempt and disrespect.
For months before I finally left, the producers of the show treated my co-host, Travis Oates, like he had never worked on a show in his life. Travis has created and executive produced several shows. He is currently writing a book, and has won several awards for his work. Travis deserved their respect, but they never gave it to him.
Travis was very active on the Arena message boards, and when we suddenly dropped CounterStrike from our show, the fans asked him why. Travis asked te producer what he should tell them. The producer told Travis that Valve had decided not to sign a waiver, which would protect the network from a lawsuit if some stupid kid decided to shoot up his school and blame it on CS. Travis relayed this information to the fans, and someone from Valve read it. Apparently this made the person from Valve very unhappy, and this person complained to G4. The brass at the network was furious, and blew up at Travis about it. The producer, who had explicitly told Travis what to say, never spoke up on Travis' behalf. He sat back, and let Travis get blamed for just following the producer's instructions. As a matter of fact, the producer had the nerve to send Travis an e-mail, where he blasted Travis for speaking without permission.
When we suddenly dropped DOA3 from Arena, the fans wanted to know why. Again, Travis asked the producer what to tell them. The producer told Travis that we'd cut the game from Arena because an executive at Comcast, G4's parent company, was "personally offended by Dead Or Alive 3," so it had been pulled not only from Arena, but from the entire network as well. Travis conveyed this information to the fans, via the message board, and when the G4 executives read it, they freaked out more intensely than the Valve people had. Travis was threatened with termination, and again the producer sat back and said nothing. He did fire off another terse, official-sounding e-mail to cover his ass. This producer's treatment of Travis, and the network's complicity, was strike one.
When Microsoft and G4 teamed up to have the HALO National Finals on Arena, our producer treated the players like they were scum. As early as our first production meeting, he was talking about them like they were an annoyance, and lucky to even be on the show. My efforts to make sure that the players, who had come from all over the country to play the game and were competing for major prizes, were treated well, were met with constant resistance from everyone except one executive at G4. The HALO finals should have been one hour long (44 minutes of show, with the balance being commercials), but the network refused. They insisted that it be cut down to 23 minutes, and it ended up looking like crap. It was the HALO freaking National Finals, and it looked like something on UHF. It was boring and stiff. I asked the editor why it was so bad. He told me that he'd cut together an hour-long version, and it was funny and exciting. The network refused, and the producer couldn't be bothered to fight with them to make the show better. I realized that the producer was lazy, and that as long as he was involved, the show wouldn't ever grow into something that I'd be proud of. This was strike two.
Because this producer was rude, arrogant, and treated the players badly, the reputation of the show was quickly soiled within gaming circles, and it was hard to recruit new players for the show. Players who did show up were often made to wait around for hours while the producers tried to get their act together, and when they grew restless, they were reminded how lucky they were to even be there, and get some free pizza.
Because he wasn't doing his job, the producer often could not get two teams of eight players together every other week to play our games. When he found that there weren't enough players for the games, he grabbed people people who worked for G4 to play against the "champion" teams. They'd sometimes have players from the "champion" teams join the "challenger" team. Not surprisingly, the players on the "challenger" team who were from the "champion" team did not often play their best, ensuring that their real, champion team would win.
I didn't know about this practice until our 13th episode. When I found out, I expressed to the producer that I was very concerned. I felt that it was dishonest, and I was upset that he'd lied to me and to our audience about the validity of the games on Arena. I told him that it put me in an awkward position, because I wouldn't go along with lying to the audience.
In addition to being arrogant and unprofessional, this producer was also very dishonest, He didn't care that the show was essentially faked, and when I asked him how we would explain to the audience that the challenging team had players from G4 on it, he instructed me to "make something up" to justify the situation.
I felt that my integrity was on the line. I refused, and after numerous attempts to reach a compromise with him, I finally talked to his boss about it.
His boss claimed to know nothing about the faking of the game play rounds, and was very upset that the producer wasn't securing new players for each episode. He told me that he couldn't believe that the producer was unable to find four players in a span of two weeks, and told me that he'd speak with the producer, and get back to me.
About 30 minutes later, my producer called me. I told him that I was glad to hear from him (he'd been avoiding me for days) and asked him what we were going to do about the episode.
His response was to scream at me, call me names, and tell me that I was "a fucking bullshit asshole" for going over his head and complaining to his boss.
I told him that I understood why he was upset, and suggested that calling me names wasn't the most professional way to deal with this situation. I reminded him that we wouldn't be in this position if he'd gotten the players like he was supposed to.
His response was to continue screaming at me.
Now, I've been an actor for 23 years. I've worked in all levels of the industry, with all sorts of people, and I have never, never been screamed at that way. Nobody has ever treated me with such open disdain and disrespect, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I tried to calm him down, and told him again that we needed to talk about the show. I told him that lying to the audience was a real problem.
He responded, "No, Wil. The real problem is you, you fucking asshole! You had no right to go over my fucking head and talk to my fucking boss! This is complete BULLSHIT, Wil, this is -- "
Something in me snapped, and I blew up. If I'd been face to face with him, it would have taken several people to pull me off him. I told him to shut the fuck up, and be a professional.I told him that in my entire career, nobody had ever spoken to me the way he did. I told him that this was his problem, because he didn't do his job . . .
And he hung up. It was the last time I ever spoke with him.
I called Travis, my co-host and very good friend, and told him that I wanted him to know what had happened, because I was calling the network to quit when I hung up with him.
Travis calmed me down, and somehow talked me into sticking around for the episode, which was called "Team UMM vs. Team Leftovers." I finally agreed that I would do the episode, but I would tell the audience that the other team didn't show up to play against UMM, so we pulled together whoever was hanging around at the time, and called them "Leftovers."
Yeah, it wasn't true, but it was as close as I was going to get. In retrospect, I should have quit right then, but I felt a loyalty to Travis and the show's fans. I decided to shoot this "leftovers" episode, and deal with the problems when we were done. Of everything that happened, this is the only choice I regret.
When we shot the episode, the producer skulked around like a child, and there were countless mysterious "technical" problems that we'd never had before. Travis and I were forced to stop and start over and over again, and it became clear to us after an hour or so that the producer was fucking with us.
We finished the episode, and I spent the following week working on the script for the next show. When I went to pick up my paycheck that week, I saw that my pay had been inexplicably cut by over 2/3. I knew that the producer had done this, and when I called my bosses at the network to get to the bottom of it, nobody would give me a straight answer. In subsequent meetings with the network heads, I was informed that my pay would remain insultingly low for at least the next two years, and there was no plan to increase the budget on my show. G4 had no intention of removing this producer who had driven me and Travis away from the network, or any of the other producers who were driving good talent away.
Strike Three. G4 is out.
There is a culture of dishonesty and hubris at G4 that would make an ambulance-chasing lawyer cringe, and I couldn't be part of it. I understand that the blame for my quitting has been placed on another producer, who was fired just before I quit. This is not true. It has also come to my attention that the very producer who treated us so badly has been telling people that he had me fired. For anyone keeping score at home, it is entirely because of this producer, and his outrageous treatment of both me and Travis that I quit.
Despite all of this, there are a couple of good people who work there: mostly writers, who are doing the very best they can in an incredibly hostile environment. One person in particular, Brian Malley, was one of the hardest working people I've ever been around in 20 years of acting. Arena could not have functioned without him. The guys who actually work in the studio where we taped were all great, as well. It's truly unfortunate that the entire show was headed up by such a jerk.
I haven't seen the new hosts, but I understand that the audience hates them pretty uniformly. I would say to give them a chance. I'm sure they're doing the best they can with their material . . . but I fear that they are going to ride this sinking ship all the way down.