Ok, here’s how RadicalGate 2008 went down.
I’m working at SpanishPod in 2008. The reviews of the podcast are good–they’re great actually–but none of the new language projects (SpanishPod, FrenchPod, ItalianPod) are showing the same meteoric growth as ChinesePod. In fact, cPod itself is starting to plateau, and since all of the revenue comes from subscriptions, the bosses start having an itchy, flakey panic to create new products for customers to subscribe to.
At the time, video seemed to be the next logical step for us, so we over at SpanishPod started testing and then publishing the La Clave and Cooking With Tabasco series. These were well-crafted, but from the point of view of the jonesing bosses, they were too labor intensive; they wanted something cheaper and faster. So they let Video Marco try out some vocab vids that were slick, but were easy to shoot. Unfortunately they were low on instructional quotient and they couldn’t figure out how to monetize them.
Do something more instructional, they said, people like learning. But don’t ask for faster computers or fancy new cameras or anything serious; we want it to be instructional and entertaining, but also as cheap and easy as a podcast.
So someone came up with this “Radical Show” concept, to teach the 218 or so radicals of written Chinese using video. Video Marco came up with a unifying concept that the show be low tech and goofy, like some kind of retro home movie. John Pasden would host and play this awkward, wooden character named “John Pasden.” The other people on the staff would just clown.
Here’s the vid they came up with.
I will go on record to say that I loved this video from the dopey beginning where sweater-wearin’ John explains the characters’ motivations while a bicycle wheel is squeaking, to the end where Aussie Matt is playing with some headphones. My favorite part is when Pete and Matt are holding up Davidico’s arms. Why are they doing that? No idea, but it cracked me up.
There were some problems with it, of course, not the least of which was that it was five plus minutes about the character 人。 Which is to say that much of the time was dedicated to the dopey theme, which I loved, but apparently the ruthless cPod universe HATED. Those people HATED that show.
First of all, everyone, EVERYONE who watched that show already knew what 人 was, so it didn’t teach a single person a damn thing. Second, the show showed no women; no Jenny, no Amber, no Connie or Jiaojie, it was the white dudes on the cPod staff being dopey, which the cPod universe didn’t really care about. Also, the cPod universe is a catty bunch; I personally found them to be equally as likely to be negative and mean as they were to fawn over Jenny. Anyway, the Radical Show was vociferously panned, and they went as far as to pull it off the site.
The CRAZIEST part, though, was when Frank Fradella pointed out that he had been in Shanghai, in our offices not six months earlier, with a demo that he put together himself, pitching himself to be the company’s video guy, with a futuristic-looking video called “a Radical Approach” in which he taught the character… wait for it… the character “人。”
Frank had done his pitch in our Studio, and had showed the video on his laptop. We were all blown away; none of us were video people, we didn’t know that kind of video was within our reach.
After Frank’s pitch, everybody thanked him, and then he went back to Florida and the bosses forgot about him. They didn’t even have the courtesy to call him back. I, personally, kept in contact with Frank, so I was left to apologize for their discourtesy and tell Frank that yes, the bosses were dicks.
So fast forward to 6 months later, when cPod published the dopey Radical Show, and poor Frank is noticing: same concept (Chinese radicals), same lesson (人), even similar titles (The Radical Show vs. A Radical Approach). Naturally, Frank was hurt, and it sure looked to everyone that John Pasden and the cPod team stole the idea from Frank’s pitch.
Here’s the deal; John Pasden is not a thief. Starting a video show about radicals was a logical step, and 人 is the most obvious character to start with. It is much easier for me to imagine that everybody was reinventing the same obvious wheel than to imagine that the evil and diabolical John Pasden was ripping off a highly original idea. Frank wrote in, John apologized.
But then Aric, bless him, made a federal case about it on his own blog, which attracted attention in the expat rag. Aric made the “theft” the crowning jewel of his post listing the various and sundry reasons to hate the cPod management, which was AWESOME. I felt bad for John, but was happy that the whole ridiculous episode was shifting the bosses’ attention away from the fact that me and my team were late coming back from a Tabasco shoot.
Honestly, for me this whole episode kept getting funnier and funnier. Did I mention that they did over five minutes on the character 人？ Dear lord, Frank only spent 40 seconds on it…
In the end, Frank thanked Aric for standing up for him. John pleaded that he had forgotten about Frank’s demo and apologized; Frank forgave him. The Radical Show 0001 was branded as a horrible, embarrassing failure; it was erased from the site and was never spoken of again, which in my mind, was a shame, because as I said above, I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, by this time in the company’s ethos, “learning from mistakes” had turned into “afraid to try.”
Aussie Matt continued to work with Video Marco; they made the Menu Stealer, which was brilliant, but did not get a lot of traction, it seems. In any case, both Video Marco and Aussie Matt wanted more out of life that that company was willing to offer, so they all left.
A couple days ago I ran across the Radical Show 0001 and watched it again for the first time in years. It’s annoyingness still cracks me up, and I felt myself missing Matt and Pete. I sent them both the link through chat, both of them cracked up as we reminisced about that ridiculous company.
I got word the other day that cPod is finally starting a new video series; the first episode is about mahjong, and they’ve got the studio manager Davidico working on it. I asked him about it, and he says his computer won’t run Final Cut, but that the bosses have promised him a new computer. So as we see, some things never change.