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Seven years of Buzz Report: A retrospective

Molly Wood takes a look back at seven years of the Buzz Report Web video series: the hair, the jokes, the graphics, and the fun.

This week, my Web video series, the Buzz Report, is officially over. I don't know of a longer-running Web video series: it started on May 23, 2005, and lasted until this week, April 12, 2012. That's a pretty serious run. And although I know many of you are really upset about its passing (yes, I'm reading the feedback), I want you to know...I loved every minute of it.

Sarah Harbin, Buzz's producer and editor since 2007, and I tried to come up with some of the best moments of the past seven years and compile a great and moving clip show. That proved impossible. But luckily, we've done Best of the Buzz videos every year since 2006, and bloopers to boot. So, we decided to create a playlist -- a long one! -- of all those compilations: the best moments of each year, plus the funniest outtakes. That's here, and I thought there was no better tribute to the Buzz Report than to write its long history to go along with it.

Back in 2005, a guy named Mark Larkin (now general manager for all of CNET.com editorial, as it now turns out) was re-starting CNET's long-lost video efforts. See, CNET TV had been actual television when CNET Networks first started, and Mark had been there then, producing shows like CNET Central with Richard Hart and The New Edge, hosted by, it's true, Ryan Seacrest. Mark came to me one day and asked me to be the next Ryan Seacrest.

Oh, ok, that's a lie. But Mark was trying to restart video on CNET, but online. He approached me one day after a meeting in which I was making my typical wisecracks, and asked me if I might like to do a video version of the Daily Buzz column that I wrote for the CNET.com front door every day.

The Daily Buzz column on the old CNET front door, only slightly distorted by time.
The Daily Buzz column on the old CNET front door, only slightly distorted by time. Click to enlarge. Molly Wood, CNET

My answer was obvious, of course. "Um. No, thank you?"

Also a lie. I didn't say no, but I was pretty apprehensive. I told Mark I was worried about my gummy smile and the fact that I'd spent my career up to that point as an ivory tower writer who didn't know anything about video or, say, makeup. I made fun of broadcast journalists, in fact; I came from that intense print background. But Mark said he believed I could do it, and told me he'd coach me through it (by which he meant standing around menacingly with his arms folded, rocking back and forth intensely as we filmed).

So, we fired up the Buzz Report after a couple of pilots, and...I wasn't great. Who would be? I look at those old episodes now and I can't believe how muted I seem, when I thought I was being animated. I can't believe how flat my jokes sounded, when they were hilarious in print. And I can't believe how young I look.

The Buzz Report turned out to be the cornerstone of the new CNET TV. Mark and I and a team of many others (hi, Brooke Fury!) went on to brainstorm and design a groundbreaking interface for watching online video, and launched the CNET TV beta in summer of 2006. We came out of beta in October 2006, we were pioneers in offering our shows on-demand on Verizon, Cox, and of course, TiVo (hello, TiVo people!), we were among the earliest to offer downloadable video podcasts, and I will always maintain that we were, and still are, ahead of the curve in offering lean-back, high-caliber Web video that entertains, informs, and innovates. Plus, we had a super fun launch party.

CNET TV, in beta form.
CNET TV, in beta form. CNET.com

Obviously, CNET TV did some evolving (we weren't immune to feedback noting that our drop-down "remote control" looked, ahem, mildly phallic): we even lost the black background in revision 2.0, which I was not happy about. But we persisted, and CNET TV continues to evolve and be a product I'm incredibly proud to be a part of creating and contributing to.

Now, back to the Buzz Report! Some fun facts about the show:

  • when we first started, we had no teleprompter. I had to memorize each chunk of text, and then we'd put in a graphics break between each segment. That's probably why I was so muted, in fact...I was concentrating!

    I found out around 2006 or even early 2007 that we did, in fact, own teleprompters, that they were in storage somewhere, and that Buzz's then editor, Kelly Hendricks, and camera guy Charlie Wagner had been deliberately keeping the prompters away from the fledgling TV talent. They thought, not without merit, that prompters just create the sense that the presenter is "reading," and that they lead to a glassy stare and unnatural behavior.

    All agreed, though, that I was a natural at prompter. And even if they didn't like it, once I had that sucker, I wasn't going back. Shoot times went from about 45 minutes to more like 25.

  • In the early days of the Buzz Report, we had this super-cool jib shot at the start--the camera swooped in from on high, past the red ball, and landed on my desk, with me sitting at it. So, in 2006, we shot four or five jib shots, and then for the entire next year and a half, I had to wear the same outfit, over and over and over. The black blazer came from Target, and has, I am pretty sure, never been washed. It and the giant red CNET logo live in my office to this day. Eventually we graduated to a unique jib shot for every show. What a wardrobe relief (but source of much cursing my Charlie).
  • We also used to shoot each still for the show thumbnail on CNET TV. I would pose in some dorky fashion, and sometimes Kelly would add in a graphic element, like bees flying all around me, or floating phones or something. You can see Brian Cooley working on trying to figure out some stills in the 2007 blooper reel, around 1:51. (Cooley did a lot of filling in that year, in fact, for about five months, while I was home on maternity leave!)
  • Buzz Report stills ... oh, how silly I felt posing for these.
    Buzz Report stills...oh, how silly I felt posing for these. Molly Wood, CNET.com

    Poor Brian Cooley, gamely creating a video still.
    Poor Brian Cooley, gamely creating a video still. Molly Wood, CNET.com

  • Speaking of 2007, Sarah Harbin started producing and editing Buzz full-time just after I returned from leave. And by 2010, I'd been writing the same jokes for five years, and needed help: we brought in Jeff Sparkman to help with script-writing and joke honing. Our weekly "script meetings" are pretty well known around the CNET TV seating area: they involved a lot of loud, hysterical laughing, jokes best saved for the next installment of the "Jackass" movie series, and, once in a while, some booze.
  • Shaun Charity has been doing motion graphics for the show since late 2009, and the difference has been incredible. He's the guy behind the Balls on China, the Apple-Samsung pissing match, and so much more; a video reel of his accomplishments is at the end of our playlist.
  • This episode, called "Face it, the iPhone Sucks", earned me more than just the ire of Apple fanboys everywhere: it got us some angry calls from two huge advertisers (I bet you can imagine which two) and, I'm told, cost CNET quite a bit of money that year. To the eternal credit of this company's management, no one ever told me to tone it down, although I'm sure they wished I would. I only found out when I was toasting some sales guys at the Webbys that year.
  • Other notable episodes include "Apple is my Bad Boyfriend", which preceded my highly publicized breakup with the iPhone 3GS on AT&T. The episode titled "Nvidia chip scandal exposed" earned me an angry call from Nvidia, and a very reasonable admonition from my editors to like, double-check my sources or at least get a "no comment" from companies I might be skewering.
  • The Clogging the Tubes segment quickly became a favorite, and 2010 was the first time Sarah tried her hand at recreating a "Hitler Reacts" meme video that was actually a meme mashup: the Bed Intruder meets Hitler Reacts. Skip straight to 3:08 and enjoy.
  • But that was just a warmup for our most successful Buzz Report spinoff: the Hitler Reacts to the Pepper-Spray Cop Meme video, which has over 100,000 YouTube views. Sarah, Sparkman, and I are nothing if not masters of inappropriate humor.

The Buzz Report and of course, Buzz Out Loud, have been my entire media life for seven years now. I'll miss them both immeasurably, especially since both of them gave me the opportunity to do shows based almost completely around who I am and what I think is interesting and funny. Who gets that opportunity in life? I will always be grateful, and even as I move on to my new show, Always On (see the trailer here!), I know that the lessons of Buzz Report will make me who I'm going to be in the future. Plus, as always...thanks for watching! See you again in June!