Virtual character Dev Null.

Virtual character Dev Null.

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David Bohrman Creates "The Site", the First TV Show to Feature a Character Animated in Real Time

7/1996
<p>Logo for "The Site" TV show.</p>

Logo for "The Site" TV show.

While Executive Producer at NBC and MSNBC, David Bohrman created The Site for MSNBC, an hour-long television program devoted to the Internet revolution. The show debuted in July 1996 with the launch of MSNBC, and aired Monday through Saturday. The Site won many awards and was named the best broadcast on Internet and high technology by its industry peers. It was also the first television show to have an award-winning website.

One of the most innovative features of The Site was the nightly segment in which the young anchor Soledad O’Brien engaged in spontaneous unscripted tech talk with a flirtatious virtual reality cartoon character named Dev Null, who was animated in real time by a Silicon Graphics ONYX computer. This was probably the first television show to feature a character animated in real time. The animated character was journalist Leo Laporte who did the voice and actions while wearing a motion capture suit. Bohrman dreamed up the idea for Dev Null the previous year while experimenting with virtual set technology at NBC.

"Laporte generated both the voice and actions while wearing a VR motion capture suit. When O'Brien sat at the espresso bar to read email from viewers, Dev 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.'

"While O'Brien looked at a piece of tape on the wall indicating Dev's virtual position, the VR suit captured Laporte's actions, and a computer program translated his body movements to create the character, while other human operators controlled facial expressions and accentuated movements of his hair. The control room juxtaposed O'Brien and Dev on the same set using a switcher.

"Laporte recalled arriving at NBC with a 90-page treatment:

"I'll never forget pitching it to NBC at 30 Rock just before Christmas 1995. Then NBC News Director Andrew Lack came in in a three-piece suit and cowboy boots. He propped his booted feet up on the table and said, 'Okay, let's hear it.' It was like something out of Seinfeld... I had hoped to be the lead reporter on the show, but the NBC executives told me I had no chance of getting on camera, so they stuck me in a VR suit and the character Dev Null was born. I won an Emmy for it, but the only other competition was a sock puppet character on the local Spanish language station, so it wasn't exactly a competitive category... The Site was a major network's idea of what a technology TV show should look like: big on production values, light on content, but it was an important moment in the mainstreaming of the Internet. I still run into people now and then who remember me as "the guy in the suit" (Wikipedia article on Dev Null, accessed 11-08-2014).

After the death of Princess Diana The Site was cancelled by MSNBC. Most of the staff of The Site was rehired by Ziff-Davis to launch ZDTV, a new channel, later known as TechTV

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