A thank you note from a long-time fan

I started watching The Speed Round pretty much by accident. Clicking and scrolling through the internet one day, I happened upon a little 5-minute web show hosted by a sassy, funny, irreverent girl who seemed to be fairly early in the process of figuring out how to do a web show. I don’t know how I got there, but it changed the way that I think about sports, news, and entertainment and how all of them should be consumed.

To me, The Speed Round was something new. Everything about it was new. I didn’t know Katie Nolan from anywhere — she didn’t arrive with any pre-existing body of work or built-in impression; she wasn’t “as seen on …” or “you might remember her from …”. She was something unique in the entertainment world: a truly fresh face.

Her medium, while not new to the world, was new to me. I’d never watched an entirely web-based show before; certainly not religiously. I’m betraying my age, but pre-Katie Nolan the internet was something ancillary — it was a place to go to gather information; a supplemental source; a tool. By then the internet had rendered newspapers obsolete, but for those of us who viewed the millennials (skeptically) through our rearview mirror, entertainment still originated from the traditional sources: movies, tv, radio. The internet was where you went to catch up on things you had missed on TV, not the source of original content.

Her genre was something foreign, too. Not quite news, not quite sports, not quite pop-culture, it was funny and free-form and it relied as much on the charisma of the deliverer as on the strength of the material being delivered. It was Daily Show-esque in its snark and wit, but it lacked the pretension that sometimes tinted Jon Stewart’s show and those trying to emulate it. It was all of your favorite barroom conversations poured into the person of a cute girl from Boston and doled out in convenient 5-minute daily increments.

The result: I was hooked on Katie Nolan.

The way we watch

Psychologists will tell you that the connection you feel with an entertainer or media personality is closely related to the manner in which the entertainment is consumed. Movie stars seem distant and untouchable, mostly because we see them on a larger-than-life screen in a public arena surrounded by a bunch of strangers. The intimacy level felt in such an interaction is zero.

TV personalities engender a much closer relationship — we welcome them into our homes and spend time with them sitting on the couch in our living room. We usually see them once a week (or more), sometimes for years. They become a comfortable and familiar part of our lives, like a good family friend.

Pre-internet, the closest media relationship you could enjoy was with a talk radio personality. More often than not you were engaged in a one-on-one conversation with them about intimate and passionate topics. You were alone with them in your car day after day. You got to know their inside jokes and their pet peeves. Their friends became your friends. You knew them.

Webcasts take the intimacy of talk radio and amplify it. You still have all of the one-on-one engagement, the familiarity, and the repetition, but you get to actually see the person. Your friend isn’t some disembodied voice calling to you from elsewhere, she’s right there next to you looking you in the eye!

side note: If you’re keeping score, the only rung on the ‘celebrity intimacy’ ladder that is higher than a webcast is a video game where you not only have one-on-one engagement, but you become a character in the fictional world. Still working on my love letter to Mario & Luigi … stay tuned.

If this all sounds a little creepy, it is. And it’s part of the reason stalkers are able to conjure deep and meaningful (though wholly imaginary) relationships with celebrities.

But for the (relatively) more well-adjusted among us, it’s the core fire that fuels fandom. It’s the reason we spend our time and energy and money watching and reading and following entertainers from one project to the next. It’s the reason actors can command outrageous salaries for projects that haven’t been made yet. And it’s the reason that celebrities do everything they can to burnish their image in the eyes of their fans.

Gotta go, world to conquer

After spending some quality becoming a Katie Nolan fan, something happened that was terrible and wonderful all at once: Katie got a job — a real job; a big job. Katie Nolan’s prodigious talents had been noticed by big wigs at the then-fledgling Fox Sports 1 network who plucked her from obscurity and placed her behind the desk of a well-funded and star-studded new sports/entertainment program called Crowd Goes Wild. Bye-bye green-screen brick wall background, hello actual brick wall background!

Our Katie was off to show the world what she could do, but that meant she would no longer be our Katie.

Crowd Goes Wild eventually went away, as shows do, but Katie’s star continued to rise. From No Filter (a web series that took advantage of Katie’s well-honed internet roots) to Garbage Time (a weekly TV sports/variety program in the Daily Show mold), Katie has been steadily blazing a trail into new territory, building something that didn’t exist before she decided to create it.

While the rest of the sport media world has been churning out the same blend of commentary, analysis and hot takes, Katie Nolan and a handful of like-minded pioneers — Michelle Beadle and Sarah Spain, notably — have been setting up camp in an uncharted area on the outskirts of the sports broadcasting world. Unlike the sports media model that has dominated the arena since the advent of ESPN, this new space isn’t sports journalism with a few yuks sprinkled in for fun. Katie and crew are entertainers — primarily and unapologetically — who use sports as a jumping-off point. The distinction might seem like a tweak, but in many ways it’s a revolution.

In the same way that Jon Stewart broadened the horizons of news and politics, Katie Nolan (et al) is widening the sports tent in ways that the ex-jocks and wannabes would never have thought of, let alone been able to execute.

I knew her before it was cool

Last week, our Katie Nolan reached the mountaintop of modern celebrity status: a guest appearance on a late night talk show.

In the past, a similar meteoric rise and accompanying explosion of popularity might cause original fans like me to drift away; to lament that our favorite diamond in the rough was now on display for the world to adore and to move on in search of some undiscovered cool kid whose fan club wasn’t yet overcrowded with newcomers.

But this was different.

Overwhelmingly, the feeling that I get when hearing about a new arena that Katie has conquered or a new dragon that she’s slain is not jealousy or weariness or even fanboy excitement. It’s pride.

It’s bizarre to take pride in something that you had nothing to do with — it might even be some form of delusion — but I liken it to the pride you take in the success of a family member. When you have a connection to someone (even an imaginary one) whose roots predate their success, you’re free to be flat-out happy for that person without the nattering pettiness that plagues shakier relationships. Katie is like a little sister who, having left the nest, is now gleefully bounding her way through the grown-up world. And those of us who knew her all the way back in 2014 are perfectly happy to watch from afar, beaming with pride.

The personal connections that Katie forged during all of those daily web conversations — connections that are as attributable to the unique aspects of the webcast as they are to Katie’s boundless charisma — made us silent investors in her future success. Her wins are now our wins.

So thank you, Katie Nolan! Thank you for your passion, your intelligence and your humor. Thank you for looking around and deciding that, if a genre doesn’t exist that fits all of your talents, you had best create one. Thank you for dragging sports entertainment into the 21st century and thank you in advance for all of the joy that is still to come from your budding, booming career.

Now, can we talk about the whole die-hard-Patriots-fan thing? ‘Coz that’s gotta go.