Feature_1_Welcome_To_Night_ValeLast month during his panel at the massive annual fan-run Doctor Who convention Gallifrey One, actor Mark Sheppard got a huge roar of approval when he spoke of geeks inheriting the Earth. He specifically meant the proliferation of high-quality science-fiction and fantasy television shows, and the ever-widening popularity of same. For proof, one had to look no further than the convention itself. Gally (as it is affectionately known), held in Los Angeles at the Marriott Airport Hotel, has been around for a quarter-century, but as U.S. Who fandom has exploded in the last several years, the con’s popularity has skyrocketed – so much that, in 2013, the hosts began limiting attendance to about 3,200 people (not counting guests and staff), and tickets sell out increasingly quickly.

A popular Gally guest, Sheppard is a genre-TV veteran whose many credits stretch back to the early ’90s and include a popular 2011 guest turn on the venerable British sci-fi program (which airs in the U.S. on BBC America), memorable 2009 appearances on Battlestar Galactica as dodgy-yet-heroic lawyer Romo Lampkin, and a recurring role as Crowley the demon on Supernatural. So the 49-year-old spoke from experience when he pointed out that, with all the great stuff out there nowadays, genre fans no long have to simply take what they can get, like in the bad old days before cable. “We won’t watch crap,” he said, and the crowd went wild.

That had become clear earlier in the weekend, when members of the smaller panel discussion “SF Television: The Year in Review” ran down a huge list of 2013 shows worth noting, some of which are not just niche successes but unqualified hits, such as Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Since being a geek by nature means being an outsider, it seemed like a good time to remind Geek Nation of this. Fortunately, panel member Jules Wilkinson (who runs the Supernatural Wiki and is, full disclosure, a friend of mine) did just that. When an audience member asked each panelist to name the best show of 2013, she came up with Welcome to Night Vale.

Welcome to What Vale? What channel is that on?

As Wilkinson admitted, Welcome to Night Vale is not a TV show at all, and didn’t even debut in 2013. It is, however, not to be missed. A bimonthly podcast, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and published by Commonplace Books, it debuted in June 2012 and is styled like a community radio show set in the titular fictional desert town, where, as Fink told NPR, “all conspiracy theories [are] real.” The effect is something vaguely like a supernatural Prairie Home Companion – richly detailed and quirky, but with tentacles.

In 20- to 30-minute episodes, narrator Cecil Baldwin reports on the many strange-but-typical goings-on around town. These may include the dog park no one is allowed to enter, a mysterious glowing cloud, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (and is running for mayor against Hiram McDaniels, a five-headed dragon voiced by Jackson Publick/Christopher McCulloch, creator of The Venture Bros.). Cecil also tells of station life, including the travails of interns such as Dana, played by Jasika Nicole of Fringe fame. Though seemingly aloof, Cecil has moments of reflection and even vulnerability, like when he falls for visiting scientist Carlos and makes his feelings public via admiring digressions about Carlos’s intelligence and wonderful hair. Each episode features the spooky theme and atmospheric incidental music by composer Disparition, along with “The Weather,” a segment that highlights music by a wide range of (real) independent artists.

Thanks in part to geeks inheriting the Earth, Welcome to Night Vale is a Lovecraftian attraction with legs (at least eight … ). Its popularity has spread largely through old-fashioned word-of-mouth, amped up by social media. It’s consistently among the iTunes Store’s Top 10 Podcasts, and it even hit No. 1 in July 2013, surpassing Ira Glass’s This American Life. Fans help keep it going by making donations and buying T-shirts, mugs, and other merch in the online store. Recently, the creators have taken their act on the road; they’re in the middle of a quickly selling-out live tour right now. Night Vale also just put out “Condos,” its first live recorded episode, as a pay-what-you-can download ($1 minimum), and a novel is due in 2015. (What’s next, Night Vale the MusicalNight Vale on Ice?)

Although we could actually see Baldwin and other performers on stage during a sold-out January performance at L.A. music venue Largo at the Coronet, the way they stood at microphones and read from scripts felt reassuringly radio-esque. Cecil gave the audience a good old-fashioned thrill by half-convincing us that a scary, hungry Librarian was loose in the theater, while genre-TV darling Wil “Wesley Crusher” Wheaton gamely guest-starred as an ill-fated intern, and Jasika Nicole returned to update us on seemingly forever lost-in-time former intern Dana. It was genuinely touching when Dana told Cecil that she saw a glimpse of herself in the future, and knows she’ll get back to her family someday.

Beyond the sheer spooky fun of it all, it’s those fleeting moments of humanity – and listeners’ attachment to the characters who offer them – that make Night Vale resonate. As with the best genre TV, we like the weird situations, but even more do we like the people (and the not-people) in those weird situations, and how they deal with them. This is a show that encourages us to imagine just how terrible a Librarian must look, yet also makes us see the tragic, heroic figure in a frankly disturbing character like Megan, a little girl whose entire body is an adult man’s hand.

Now if only they could get Mark Sheppard to play an intern … .

—Natalie Nichols

A popular Gally guest, Sheppard is a genre-TV veteran whose many credits stretch back to the early ’90s and include a popular 2011 guest turn on the venerable British sci-fi program (which airs in the U.S. on BBC America), memorable 2009 appearances on Battlestar Galactica as dodgy-yet-heroic lawyer Romo Lampkin, and a recurring role as Crowley the demon on Supernatural. So the 49-year-old spoke from experience when he pointed out that, with all the great stuff out there nowadays, genre fans no long have to simply take what they can get, like in the bad old days before cable. “We won’t watch crap,” he said, and the crowd went wild.

That had become clear earlier in the weekend, when members of the smaller panel discussion “SF Television: The Year in Review” ran down a huge list of 2013 shows worth noting, some of which are not just niche successes but unqualified hits, such as Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Since being a geek by nature means being an outsider, it seemed like a good time to remind Geek Nation of this. Fortunately, panel member Jules Wilkinson (who runs the Supernatural Wiki and is, full disclosure, a friend of mine) did just that. When an audience member asked each panelist to name the best show of 2013, she came up with Welcome to Night Vale.

Welcome to What Vale? What channel is that on?

As Wilkinson admitted, Welcome to Night Vale is not a TV show at all, and didn’t even debut in 2013. It is, however, not to be missed. A bimonthly podcast, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and published by Commonplace Books, it debuted in June 2012 and is styled like a community radio show set in the titular fictional desert town, where, as Fink told NPR, “all conspiracy theories [are] real.” The effect is something vaguely like a supernatural Prairie Home Companion – richly detailed and quirky, but with tentacles.

In 20- to 30-minute episodes, narrator Cecil Baldwin reports on the many strange-but-typical goings-on around town. These may include the dog park no one is allowed to enter, a mysterious glowing cloud, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (and is running for mayor against Hiram McDaniels, a five-headed dragon voiced by Jackson Publick/Christopher McCulloch, creator of The Venture Bros.). Cecil also tells of station life, including the travails of interns such as Dana, played by Jasika Nicole of Fringe fame. Though seemingly aloof, Cecil has moments of reflection and even vulnerability, like when he falls for visiting scientist Carlos and makes his feelings public via admiring digressions about Carlos’s intelligence and wonderful hair. Each episode features the spooky theme and atmospheric incidental music by composer Disparition, along with “The Weather,” a segment that highlights music by a wide range of (real) independent artists.

Thanks in part to geeks inheriting the Earth, Welcome to Night Vale is a Lovecraftian attraction with legs (at least eight … ). Its popularity has spread largely through old-fashioned word-of-mouth, amped up by social media. It’s consistently among the iTunes Store’s Top 10 Podcasts, and it even hit No. 1 in July 2013, surpassing Ira Glass’s This American Life. Fans help keep it going by making donations and buying T-shirts, mugs, and other merch in the online store. Recently, the creators have taken their act on the road; they’re in the middle of a quickly selling-out live tour right now. Night Vale also just put out “Condos,” its first live recorded episode, as a pay-what-you-can download ($1 minimum), and a novel is due in 2015. (What’s next, Night Vale the MusicalNight Vale on Ice?)

Although we could actually see Baldwin and other performers on stage during a sold-out January performance at L.A. music venue Largo at the Coronet, the way they stood at microphones and read from scripts felt reassuringly radio-esque. Cecil gave the audience a good old-fashioned thrill by half-convincing us that a scary, hungry Librarian was loose in the theater, while genre-TV darling Wil “Wesley Crusher” Wheaton gamely guest-starred as an ill-fated intern, and Jasika Nicole returned to update us on seemingly forever lost-in-time former intern Dana. It was genuinely touching when Dana told Cecil that she saw a glimpse of herself in the future, and knows she’ll get back to her family someday.

Beyond the sheer spooky fun of it all, it’s those fleeting moments of humanity – and listeners’ attachment to the characters who offer them – that make Night Vale resonate. As with the best genre TV, we like the weird situations, but even more do we like the people (and the not-people) in those weird situations, and how they deal with them. This is a show that encourages us to imagine just how terrible a Librarian must look, yet also makes us see the tragic, heroic figure in a frankly disturbing character like Megan, a little girl whose entire body is an adult man’s hand.

Now if only they could get Mark Sheppard to play an intern … .

—Natalie Nichols

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