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Gavin Purcell: 'people always say I'm gonna be the first cyborg'

Gavin Purcell: 'people always say I'm gonna be the first cyborg'


Gavin Purcell, producer of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, talks to 5 Minutes on The Verge.

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gavin purcell
gavin purcell

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has drawn younger viewers by mixing the usual late night tropes with a smart mix of music and technology — our very own Joshua Topolsky is the resident tech expert — and we talked talk to the one-man "TV producer + nerd + dad" keeping it all running: Gavin Purcell. From his midtown New York office, Gavin spoke with us about his formative gaming experiences, how technology has changed the job of producing for television, and what he's been reading lately. You can find him on Twitter at @gavinpurcell.

Where are you?

Sitting in my office at 30 Rock. I look out on 6th Ave from the 7th Floor. If you ever go to Magnolia on 6th Ave, look up and you might be able to see me. I have a Dyson Air thing in my window. Also, I promise I won't spit on you.

What are you doing right now?

Scanning Google Reader/Reddit/Twitter for anything of interest. Just tweeted a picture of Vladimir Putin wearing 3D movie glasses from BoingBoing. Also, in another window I'm writing Thank You Notes for the show. Trying not to worry too much about the bajillion things I've missed already today.

What’s most exciting to you about technology at this moment?

Well, there's what's happening in the real world and then what's happening in the research labs.

The real world thing that excites me the most is the App Store and all the new software that comes out everyday. When I was a kid, I used to go to Egghead three times a week, just to see what new stuff came in. Now I do that from the comfort of my home, multiple times a day. And when I find something awesome, it provides instant gratification. So cool.

"People always say I'm gonna be the first cyborg."

From a research standpoint, I'm most excited about the idea of human / robotic interactions or the melding of our facilities with those of machines. People always say I'm gonna be the first cyborg and if it's gonna give me mental (or physical) superpowers, I'd be down.

Who is your favorite person on Twitter?

Hmmm. This is really, really tough call. I follow a lot of people and actually follow them — part of what I love about Twitter is the variety of people on there, getting little snippets of completely different personalities and news throughout the day.

Long time SNL writer Paula Pell recently got on Twitter and she has a great, unique voice. Damon Lindelof is pretty awesome & nerdy. Matt Rix is an iPhone game developer that tweets a lot of cool stuff from that space. And I've been really impressed with Xeni Jardin's tweets as of late as she's been battling breast cancer. It's really inspiring to see someone take on something like that in public and do it so eloquently.

How has technology changed your job? What does it let you do that you couldn't have done ten years ago?

So so much.

From the TV production side: HD video, smaller, cheaper, better cameras, crazy amounts of storage so we rarely have to delete anything, almost everything is different.

From the creative production side: Twitter makes it so we can not only interact with our fans but help make them part of the show + everyone has access to all the news ever all the time so more stuff can bubble up from the fringes + almost all media is now online so if we need to research what Neil Young looked like in 1975 it's less than five seconds away.

Similarly, the show is no longer just an hour every night; the personalities have moved beyond the TV and bled onto Twitter and onto the web. How do you manage that?

There's a long answer here but the short one is that we actively cultivate it. From the fans to the people just tuning in for specific things that bubble up on the web the next day. It's hugely important to us.

What's your favorite show-related gadget (software or hardware)?

I'm very partial to the iPhone. It's a boring answer but I use it more than any gadget I've ever used in my entire life.

You incorporate a lot of technology humor into Late Night — what's been the biggest success in doing that? The biggest failure?

I think our biggest successes to date have been our weekly Late Night Hashtags segment, our annual Video Game Week and getting Josh Topolsky a slightly higher Q rating. (Keep in mind, he was starting pretty close to zero).

Our biggest failure came pretty early — we tried to do some stuff with viral videos similar to what I used to do at my old show (I used to be the Executive Producer of G4's Attack of the Show) and it just didn't work. We moved on from it pretty quickly. We do try a lot of different things still — some that work better than others.

What was the last time you were really stunned by a development in technology (e.g. launching Spotify or Napster for the first time, using the original iPhone, the first time you watched sports in HD)?

I still think AirPlay + Spotify is magic. Being able to access nearly every song in the world at a moments notice and then hearing it through your home stereo is some real next-level future shit.

What's the best book you've read lately?

I read a lot — probably more than your average TV person — and from a wide variety of stuff.

For fiction, I'm a huge genre (SF/Fantasy) nerd and even enjoy YA from time to time. I just read a YA book called Dirvergent which is really good dystopian sci-fi with a little romance thrown in for the people who should be reading it (in other words not me).

For non-fiction, I just read two books everyone should read: The Happiness Advantage which is about how being happy makes you successful versus the other way around & The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life & Business which is about the patterns we set for ourselves and how we can change them. Both fascinating and part of my favorite book genre: "Science-based Self Help Non-Fiction With Interesting Anecdotes To Get You Through The Boring Parts"

Do you get a newspaper delivered to your home?

"We just get more of the stuff we like and don't get surprised enough."

Hell no. I gave it up like five years ago when I realized I was doing more recycling that actual reading. I do read the NYT every once in a while. I find that it's great for discovery and shaking up my brain with stuff I wouldn't normally see. That's actually a huge problem in the media space right now — we just get more of the stuff we like and don't get surprised enough.

What was the last mobile app you bought?

I buy a lot of apps — Jimmy and I recently started an app development company so I buy a ton of them just to check them out.

I just got Pick — which is like Japanese Instagram with weird hearts and stuff you can add to the pictures. Fun, weird and kind of cool. I also really like this new game I just bought called Ski Safari — it's Tiny Wings on Skis.

What's your favorite mobile game?

I play a lot of mobile games (really games period) but I tend to play one until I get sick of it. The one I played for the longest time (as in total hours) was Game Dev Story. It's a Japanese import where you run a game development company. It's very addictive. Like insanely so. I remember being up at 3am, playing under the covers, trying to hide the screen from my wife so she wouldn't wake up.

Do you believe aliens have visited Earth?

Yes. And I believe that we're being cordoned off from the rest of the Universe until we get smart enough. There's just no other way. Too many of them are out there for way too long.

What’s your first video game memory?

"I'm at Chuck E. Cheese with all my friends. Bleeps and bloops surround us."

It's my sixth birthday. I'm at Chuck E. Cheese with all my friends. Bleeps and bloops surround us. We've been playing games all evening and have retired to the pizza room. Most of us have eaten and presents have been placed on the table. I'm staring at the largest one. I'm pretty sure I know what's inside but there's always the possibility that I'll be wrong. Maybe it's some dumb chemistry set. I wait for the word from my Mom and go to town. It's an Atari 2600. My arms are thrust into the air in total exhilaration.

It's still clear as day.

What are your top five video game experiences?

(in no particular order)

1. Finally getting past the damn Yeti in Uncharted 2. The most frustrating experience of what other than that is a near perfect game.
2. Playing Half-Life 2 for the first time. That opening sequence is fantastic. Also, HL2 being unveiled was my favorite E3 experience ever.
3. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 after I finally got good at it. The speed at which you could restart a level is something that almost all casual games have stolen. The most addictive game of all time.
4. Mario 64. So much innovation wrapped in something everyone can play.
5. The Space Quest series for PC. Really all the old Sierra Games. Also, all the Infocom Games. Back when it was all about story, story, story.

How do you stay focused?

I've given up on focus. Instead, I try to be less distracted. Which is a bullshit answer. Honestly, this is huge a problem for me. I'm just not someone who focuses well. Lately, I've started meditating which seems to help.

What's the best movie you've seen lately?

Being Elmo, the documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who created Elmo. Passion about what you do = loving what you do = success.

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