Currently running in a seven-episode season is one of Nerdist's biggest hits: Neil Patrick Harris' "Puppet Dreams," in which Harris acts out scenes with Jim Henson puppets and adult innuendo. Just as Nerdist pulled in Hanks through a passion of his, Nerdist appealed to Harris' love of puppets. Harris, a longtime friend of Hardwick's, has been a fan of Nerdist since it launched: "I was mostly just envious of the title," he says.
"One of the things I love about Chris is he's a true finisher," says Harris. "He has expanded his empire radically and yet everything he sets his mind to accomplishing, he finishes. In this industry, you get a lot of people with great ideas but not a lot of follow-through."
Like the popular gaming online network Machinima (which has executive ties with Nerdist), the Nerdist approach is to proliferate across platforms. Levin, who co-founded the newsletter GeekChicDaily before merging it with Nerdist in 2010, is looking to put Nerdist on set-top boxes that connect to TVs. Legendary, he says, gives Nerdist more muscle.
"From the top down perspective, they are clearly the market leader," says Levin. "We look at ourselves as an important voice from the bottom up."
Staying true to that spirit, Hardwick says, will remain Nerdist's mission regardless of its big media partners. After growing up at a time when Dungeons & Dragons players (like himself) were outcasts, Hardwick's empire will take all comers — so long as they're passionate about what they like.
"Nerds can be out about the stuff that they love without as much as the stigma against it as when I was growing up," says Hardwick. "I just want people to feel OK about what they love. Unless that thing is murder and you're a Murder Nerd."
Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle