There is no media entity more pleased to be called an empire than Nerdist, the online factory of earnest pop culture enthusiasm.
This is largely because in the Nerdist universe, Star Wars is an oft-visited galaxy. The kind of fandom those films have inspired is in many ways Nerdist's model of engagement.
It would probably cheer the Nerdist creator Chris Hardwick, a comedian and TV personality turned internet entrepreneur, if this story began in words that drifted dramatically away into space.
The force, you might say, is strong with Nerdist.
"Nerdist stuff is really just the purest expression of fanboy-ism," says Hardwick. "And it's not engineered. We are that way."
The unabashed sincerity of Hardwick and Nerdist has proved infectious. Nerdist began as a weekly comedy podcast launched in 2010 that he hosted. It has grown to encompass 21 podcasts, 27 YouTube shows and a growing TV presence. The umbrella company, dubbed Nerdist Industries, was last year purchased by Legendary Entertainment, a producer of the kind of films Nerdist swoons over, such as The Dark Knight and Inception.
Nerdist even boasts a kind of manifesto, a book by Hardwick called The Nerdist Way that comically outlines his ardent vision of an "artful nerd" - one whose fandom isn't merely critical and passive, but is passionately proactive. The best example of this was last year when Hardwick and Nerdist organised an Olympic-style torch relay, run with a lightsabre from George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch, along the California coast from Los Angeles to Comic-Con (the Nerdist Oz) in San Diego. In the event, dubbed "Course of the Force", Hardwick captained a replica Jabba the Hut pleasure barge down the highway.
Buoyed by such experiences and encouraged by rising clicks and downloads, Hardwick and the Nerdist Industries chief executive Peter Levin are increasing Nerdist's TV presence while also exploring low-budget film possibilities.
Last month, BBC America, which has partnered with Nerdist for a number of specials, picked up The Nerdist, a variety talk show hosted by Hardwick, for 10 60-minute episodes to premiere in the spring. Hardwick has been a kind of cultural ambassador for BBC America in championing the series Doctor Who and hosts Talking Dead on AMC, which follows episodes of the zombie drama The Walking Dead.
In an entertainment world where comic books make blockbusters and TV shows spur cultish followings, the avenues are many for Nerdist. But adapting a digital empire into more traditional, mainstream media also poses challenges.
Television is where Hardwick first made his name. After a stint as a radio DJ in Los Angeles in the 1990s, he started landing TV and film roles before becoming co-host of the MTV dating show Singled Out alongside Jenny McCarthy.
But it wasn't until a show Hardwick had high hopes for had the plug abruptly pulled that he remade himself through the internet while continuing his stand-up career.
"What I figured out five years ago, I realised you don't have to do just one job," says Hardwick. "There was that old idea from my parents' generation. I kind of decided: Why couldn't I make a career out of smaller freelance-y jobs, building this fortress of solitude made out of things that I like?"
The Nerdist podcast was an early success in a now flourishing world of comedy podcasts. Last month, the podcasts collectively drew 4.6 million downloads. The Nerdist audience, he says, is about 64 per cent male, with most in their 20s.
The podcast has attracted big-name guests such as Tina Fey and Mel Brooks.
Nerdist's YouTube channel is a partnership with the Jim Henson Company and Lorne Michaels's Broadway Video. Its shows include All-Star Celebrity Bowling, in which TV show casts bowl against the Nerdist clan;Face to Face with Weird Al Yankovic, a parody celebrity interview show; andStar Talkwith the astrophysicist Neil deGrass Tyson.
Currently running in a seven-episode season is one of Nerdist's biggest hits: Neil Patrick Harris's Puppet Dreams, in which Harris acts out scenes with Jim Henson puppets. Harris, a long-time friend of Hardwick's, has been a fan of Nerdist since it launched.
"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."
* Associated Press