The Site, hosted by Soledad O'Brien, was an hour-long TV program devoted to the Internet revolution. It debuted in July 1996 with MSNBC's launch and aired Monday through Saturday, reaching 35 million homes. The Site was a forerunner to an entire technology channel called ZDTV, later renamed TechTV, which merged to become G4.
Dev Null, Soledad's animated barista co-host was voiced by Leo Laporte, who later became an anchor personality on TechTV, hosting multiple shows.
The Site covered technology in all forms, from technical aspects to news and culture. Musical artists Duncan Sheik and Poe were among many musicians interviewed over how technology influenced their music.
The Site was preempted for two weeks in favor of news programs during the death of Diana, Princess of Wales during September 1997. It was never brought back, and the show was pulled without a send-off. Many fans of the show petitioned MSNBC to bring it back to no avail. The Site was reincarnated as The Screen Savers less than one year later, hosted by Leo Laporte beginning with the launch in May 1998 of the new cable network ZDTV (Ziff-Davis Television), until its cancellation after the takeover by Comcast.
A nightly five-minute segment in which O'Brien engaged in spontaneous tech talk with a virtual reality cartoon character, Dev Null, was animated in real time on Silicon Graphics computers. The character was in fact ZDTV journalist Leo Laporte, who did the voice and actions while wearing a motion capture suit. When O'Brien sat at an espresso bar to read email from viewers, Dev Null flirted with her while answering her computer questions. She recalled, "One of the reasons that segment of the show worked is that I could not see him as I was talking to him, and the segment was unscripted. He was funny, and his jokes were not gags."
Author Clifford Stoll and columnist John C. Dvorak were both regular contributors. Sometimes billed as "the Net's evening news," the show also brought Soledad O'Brien Internet fame and the nickname "Goddess of the Geeks." while Lloyd Grove in The Washington Post dubbed her "television's first cyberbabe."
The Site won many awards and was named the best broadcast on internet and high technology by its industry peers. It also was the first television show to have a web site which also was award-winning. The web site was designed to accompany and advance the content and reporting of The Site as well as to stand alone. One reviewer hailed The Site as the best program on the fledgling MSNBC.
The NBC News executive in charge of creating The Site was David Bohrman, who was also the network's Executive Producer of Special Events and Breaking News. Bohrman was sent out to San Francisco to create and launch the program. His hiring of Soledad is described in her book, "The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities." The Idea of Dev Null was also Bohrman's (after experimenting with virtual set technology at NBC the year before). Leo Laporte wore a motion suit, had an IFB earpiece so he could hear Soledad, and his animated image was rendered in real-time by an Onyx SGI computer. The artwork for Dev was designed by Protozoa.
After "The Site" was cancelled by MSNBC, which went to a 24-hour news format after the death of Princess Diana, the show's staff were rehired by the parent company, Ziff-Davis, to launch ZDTV. The new channel was devoted to digital technology, and it was substantially an extension of the themes presented by "The Site." The channel gained in popularity and was rebranded to TechTV in 2001.
Key contributors and on-air regulars
Cliff Stoll, Denise Caruso, Leo Laporte, Matthew Hawn, John Gilles, Ali Hossaini, Shauna Sampson David Bohrman and animated character Dev Null. Broadcast designers Victoria Webb, Susan Roderick and Executive Producer Nancy Juliber were integral to the on-air team, winning several BDA awards for work. Richard Stutting was Art Director for the award-winning website. Victoria Webb enlisted 3RingCircus to provide the network package for ZDTV. She is currently at QVC.
Producers on The Site, many of whom got their start in television there, eventually became executives at other innovative channels, including LinkTV, Oxygen Media, G4 and LAB HD.
Regular writers and columnists
Richard Kadrey, Kevin Poulsen; Joel Deane, John Gilles, Ali Hossaini, Matthew Hawn and Shauna Sampson
Kathy Moore (TV), Suzanne Stefanac (Web)