From online star to L.A.'s big time

Video blogger Amanda Congdon hopes to conquer Hollywood

November 30, 2006|By Gina Piccalo | Gina Piccalo,Los Angeles Times

Amanda Congdon's fame, at least among Web-heads and media nerds, bloomed online last year with her snappy, three-minute daily news segments on Rocketboom. com, the New York-based indie video blog that dallies with the day's headlines. But Hollywood beckoned.

So after a public falling-out with the site's creator last summer, she packed up and headed to Los Angeles. She landed in Santa Monica, Calif., just last month and now - faster than you can say Rocketboom - she has a development deal at HBO, a video blog with ABC News, a team of high-juice agents at Endeavor and a solid shot at making that treacherous crossing from Web-born personality to Hollywood.

Congdon is known for her impish delivery, signature hair-flip, script toss and, yes, her snug-fitting T-shirts. On Rocketboom, she talked former vice presidential nominee John Edwards into reminiscing about his facial hair, quizzed passers-by with "Why is President Bush so awesome?" and donned a baseball cap, uni-brow and goatee to portray beleaguered Sprint PCS customer "Travis." It's this ironic whimsy, delivered with a mix of sarcasm, slick editing and DIY spirit, that caught fire online, catapulting Rocketboom's viewership from about 700 in 2004 to more than 300,000 last summer. Every week, Congdon, now 25, seemed to get a little blonder, a little more polished, until suddenly she was appearing as herself on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and entertaining CNN host Howard Kurtz with quirky camera changes.

But Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron was not quite so sanguine about the way she leveraged her Internet fame into TV. When asked why he hired Congdon over 400 other candidates in 2004, he demurred.

"I'm really pretty angry about the way Amanda left," he said by phone from New York. "My jaw's a bit dropped still. I can't believe everything she did, so until everything gets resolved and cleaned up ... it's hard for me to reminisce about that right now."

Now that Congdon's in Los Angeles, she's dead-focused on making the most of all this attention.

On a recent weekday afternoon in her new digs, Congdon answered the door in a loose ponytail, black leggings, a T-shirt and wedges.

"I'm allergic to my apartment," she said, with her familiar dry humor. This time, though, she was serious. The carpet in the bedroom, she said, is making her sick. That's why, she said with a grand sweep of the arm, the bed is in the living room. And why she and her boyfriend, Mario Librandi, a former Rocketboom producer and director, will soon be relocating again - this time across town. They love L.A., though it's been tricky settling here, she said. And though the beach is lovely, they've decided to move to Los Feliz, where, as Librandi noted, there's more "Brooklyn love."

Meanwhile, Congdon is planning segments for her ABCNews.com video blog, a project supervised by Michael Clemente, former senior producer and writer for World News Tonight With Peter Jennings. The show will debut before year's end and focus initially on media and the Internet with plans to cover the environment, the presidential race and the South by Southwest Interactive conference in March. She'll also contribute reports to the network's 24-hour digital channel, ABC News Now. And there's a chance, with the right story, that Congdon could end up on the TV network.

Soon, Congdon will be at HBO for a meeting with Carolyn Strauss, president of entertainment, to plan her comedy show there. (An HBO spokesperson declined to comment on the project.) Congdon expects to have an online companion show where she hopes to feature sketch comedy a la the 1980s comedy show In Living Color.

As for the show, "It's uncharted. It's not been done. So why not try it? The thing that's so great about the Web is that it's offering all these new ways to be creative that were never available before."

Congdon is mindful about the potential backlash that might follow her as she goes from "new media to old media." In fact, some veteran bloggers dismiss Congdon as a poseur - just an actress using Web cred to launch her career. But she's earnest about maintaining her Internet presence. She said she has carefully chosen projects that would allow that.

"I wanted to make sure I could still blog and video blog online independently," she said. "I think that because I was so careful that's helped people to know that I'm not just selling out or disappearing into the corporate abyss."

Congdon is the older of two children raised by Broadway actors. In 2003, she graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern University.

She landed a role as the coat check girl in NBC's not-so-reality show The Restaurant, worked as a commercial actress, a model and trained in improv comedy.

In late 2004, she answered a Craigslist ad posted by Rocketboom's Baron seeking an anchor for a daily news show.

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