They are the kings of the nerds, the godfathers of geeks, so who better to host TBS's new reality series "King of the Nerds" than beloved "Revenge of the Nerds" stars Robert "Lewis" Carradine and Curtis "Booger" Armstrong?
But the co-stars and friends are more than the show's hosts; they came up with the idea for a reality competition revolving around nerds, so they're doing double duty as hosts and executive producers on the series.
"King of the Nerds" details: Eleven male and female geeks move into a tricked-out pop culture palace -- dubbed Nerdvana -- and compete in various nerd-friendly challenges (more on those below, but giant chess pieces and cosplay are, of course, involved) with the goal of winning a $100,000 grand prize and the chance to sit in the Throne of Games and be called the King of Nerds.
The contestants have serious nerd cred: Nerd girl Alana owns thousands of Batman comics and is an expert on all things Caped Crusader, MIT grad student Hendrik is researching the mechanical properties of the Martian polar ice caps, and Virgil is a hacker who was called the "Internet Man of Mystery" by the New York Times. Guest judges throughout the season will include Jay and Silent Bob (aka Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith), "Star Trek" star George Takei, comedy/folk duo Garfunkel and Oates, and cosplay queen Yaya Han.
Lewis and Booger – er, Bobby and Curtis -- talked to Yahoo! TV about their inspiration for the show that celebrates nerdom, the fun challenges we'll see, and whether there's a difference between a nerd and a geek.
Congratulations on the show! It's fun, and we're hooked after the first episode.
Curtis: Thank you! It seems to have that effect on people.
What is the reaction that you're getting from people?
Curtis: It's been really great, actually. We've had a lot of people who've seen the initial episode -- in the press, at least -- who have been really surprised by it. There were a lot of expectations that as soon as you say "reality show," certain things pop into your head, and you assume it's going to be something sort of mean-spirited or along those lines. Everybody seems to be really pleasantly surprised that it isn't that.
Bobby: Our mandate was to celebrate nerds, not to put them down.
The show absolutely celebrates nerd culture. But do you think that people even see that term, or the term "geek," as a negative thing anymore? Is that even a pejorative term?
Bobby: It doesn't seem to be, because of the celebration of some of the biggest names in the computer world -- Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and people like that. It does make it cool now instead of a negative thing.
Curtis: We always go back to the moment in the original "Revenge of the Nerds" movie, to Bobby's speech at the climax of that movie, where we're at the pep rally. We've got all of the alumni there, and Bobby's character, Lewis, says, "Whatever they called you when you were here, whether it was 'dork,' or 'spazz,' or 'geek,' or 'nerd,' or whatever it was, come and join us."
That whole idea of "We are nerds and we are proud," all of those things have seeped into the public consciousness, in a way. Not exclusively as a result of that movie, although I think it had a lot to do with it. Now, people don't look at nerds in quite the same way. There are things about nerd culture, for all I know about it, there are elements to nerd culture I'd never dreamed of. I had never heard of the expression "cosplay" until we started ("King of the Nerds"). That's probably generational, but my point is that, while we don't have to work really hard to make people realize that being a nerd is a good thing and a positive thing, what the audience is going to be getting from this, in some degree, is going to be, "Oh my God, look at all these different things that these people do." I think that a lot of people are going to find themselves being drawn to nerds, to sort of coming out as nerds themselves when they realize that they have all these other interests in common.
Watch a clip from "Revenge of the Nerds":
It's also cooler to not be just like everyone else now … these contestants stand out in their own ways, even from each other, from other nerds …
Bobby: The thing about our 11 contestants is that each one of them is a specialist in their own chosen area of nerdom. Among their friends and peers, they are standouts, and they celebrate their ability to be standouts. You've got Brandon, who's studying to be a PhD in neuroscience …
Curtis: Then, Moogega, who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. But then, you have somebody like Alana, who has 9,000 Batman comics. You've got all elements of nerd culture.
We get to know all the contestants a little bit in the premiere, but how much more will we get to know them as the season goes on? How far into their backstories will we get?
Bobby: Oh, they're going to be exposed, warts and all, because we lived with them in Nerdvana, 24 hours a day for eight weeks. They can run but they can't hide, because eventually, everybody's going to be revealed.
Curtis: As [the show] continues, you get to know more and more of them very, very intimately. I think this is going to be the thing that really makes this show pop for people. We heard one of our producing partners, Craig Armstrong, say, "We live or we die by our nerds," which I thought was a funny way of putting it, but in fact, it's absolutely true. Those nerds are what are going to be what makes this show work.
Bobby and I were wearing two hats in this, as executive producers and as hosts. As hosts, it was sort of like just your average acting job in a way, but as an executive producer, you're spending all of your time thinking about these people and watching them. And I mean, watching them, you know, 12 hours a day, on the different monitors and so on, and I was just falling in love with all of these nerds. And I mean, it would be different every week. You know, I would have a different favorite contestant every week. I was getting sucked into the show as much as, hopefully, the audience will.
[Related: Meet the 'King of the Nerds' contestants]
Much discussion has occurred about the difference between nerds and geeks. Where do you guys stand on that? Is there a difference?
Bobby: Well, for me, I think they're synonymous. But I think if you dig deeper, "nerd" is a more positive connotation to wear than "geek." Wouldn't you say, Curtis?
Curtis: I would say in a way it is, but there's also … our nerds themselves had a discussion about this at one point, and they were saying that when it came to people referring to them as something, that obviously the nastier, more pejorative terms like "dork" or "spazz," all of those, are out of another generation. But when it comes to "nerd" and "geek," they were saying that nerds are more generally obsessive, whereas geeks tend to be more narrowly driven obsessive. So a geek would be like a science geek. The science geek might have no interest in comic books or World of Warcraft or cosplay or chess, whereas a nerd would tend to sort of have more of a wide ranging bunch of nerd interests. That was how it was described when I overheard them at one point, and it made sense to me.
How did the idea for the show come about?
Bobby: We had a discussion, Curtis and I, about five or six years ago. "Wouldn't it be great to have a reality show about nerds?" And we (pitched it) at that time, and it didn't really stick. I think we had one taker. It just wasn't the right timing, I guess. So a couple years ago, my wife suggested I call Curtis and ask him if he would like to try to launch this thing again, and he wholeheartedly said, "Yeah, let's go for it." The people at Electus and 5x5, who are the co-production partners to TBS, they just fell all over themselves. They said, "Please, please, please don't go anywhere else yet. Give us a week to just put up a proposal. We love the idea." So it hit instantly.
Do you think the success of movies like "The Social Network" and TV shows like "The Big Bang Theory" are evidence that there's definitely an audience for the show?
Curtis: Yes. But I think that the ironic part of it all was that, you know, we had pitched this idea before any of those things had happened. And so when we pitched it again, the question that we were asked every time was, "Why hasn't someone done this before?" And our answer was, of course, "Well, we tried. No one was interested before." And so when people got interested in it this time, it was partially due to all of those factors. Plus, I think a lot of the nerds who, you know, are in Hollywood are now writing screenplays and directing movies and doing television work and all of that. And they're at the age now where they're in positions of power and making decisions, and they're the ones who greenlight things like "King of the Nerds." And they do it because when they were growing up, they used to watch "Revenge of the Nerds." So it all comes around again.
How involved were you two in the details of this show, like the Throne of Games and the look of the house, and all of those great details that are a part of what makes the show so much fun?
Bobby: Well, we were consulted, of course, but those elements, you know, there were many production meetings, and our co executive producers are experts in competition gaming, and once they put their minds to it, they came up with a significant amount of those components.
Curtis: I mean, we had things like the idea of, as I remember it, we had ideas of things like the Nerd Off being part of the challenge and so on, but basically, these people who we're working with have amongst them a lot of experience, a lot of years, with reality television in all of its forms. So we were very happy to take a backseat to the actual specifics about working out challenges and things like that.
When you began the casting process, obviously there were certain basic things you were looking for, but when it came time to choose those final 11 who made it onto the show, what were some of the deciding factors?
Bobby: Each one of those individuals seems to have the innate ability to pop when you put a television camera on them. There were a lot of nerds who had definite nerd cred, but who didn't have that special something that our finalists have. And that's how they were selected … they have that special something that makes them very watchable.
Curtis: And then, you know, there was the initial video that they submitted, but then, of course, like all reality shows, they have to undergo personal interviews, and it's in those interviews where you start to see the real person. Obviously they don't send in (an audition tape) they've made unless they're happy with it being perfect. But when we had our people sit down with them and actually ask them questions and talk to them, you start to see the person behind the mask.
One of the best things about the premiere is the moment when the contestants all meet each other. They're sizing each other up, as on any reality competition series, but it was also sweet, because they immediately accepted each other and had a respect for each other that other reality-show contestants don't always display.
Bobby: Well, it's like professional courtesy amongst nerds.
Curtis: And it comes also from the fact that as outsiders, which they virtually either are or were, they know what it's like. I won't go into (specifics) because we don't want to spoil it, but the moment that happens when they're picking teams … it's significant because all of these nerds have been on the outside. It actually wound up being a bit of a challenge for us, because what they did was, once they were competing against one another, they had a hard time really trying to win. They were so used to being on the outside, and knowing how that felt, it was really kind of lovely.
In the premiere, we see a giant chess game in the Nerd-Off. What other kinds of competitions will we see?
Bobby: We have a giant game of dice. We also have an engineering physics challenge, where they have to determine … um, I don't know if I'm allowed to reveal that at this time, but it involves a lot of glass. Visually, it's wonderful to watch.
Curtis: And we have the cosplay competition, which is delightful, where they have 24 hours to create and perform a cosplay competition, which is where they have created a science fiction/fantasy culture, and they all have to wear clothing they find in the house. We also have the superhero debate. And, oh, one of my favorites -- I really love the way this worked out -- was the live gaming …
Bobby: Like Tron.
Curtis: Yeah, it was like being in Tron. They were put in this huge black space, and they have these helicopters, helipads, which they can only operate using an iPad, and they fly. So one team has to fly these helipads around this huge room, which is filled with traps, and they have to get the helipad through the different traps, and while they're doing that, the opposite team is trying to shoot down their helipads using Nerf ammunition. And it is killer. I loved it. That may have been my favorite one of all of them. There's also the Maze of Terror, which I won't even describe.
Get a tour of Nerdvana and check out some audition footage from the contestants:
You've completed the first season, eight episodes. Are you already thinking ahead to another season?
Bobby: Oh, yeah. Hopefully, if we hit the way we hope to hit, very shortly thereafter, we'll start the next nationwide search for the next batch of contestants.
"King of the Nerds" premieres on January 17 at 10pm ET on TBS.
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