Noah Robischon
September 01, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

At 335 decidedly rumpled pounds, Harry Knowles is an unlikely TV personality. But then, few imagined that a cartoonish redhead running a website filled with movie reviews and gossip — Ain’t It Cool News (http://www.aintitcool.com) — would ever score an exclusive on-set visit and early screening of Jim Carrey in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, twice fill Gene Siskel’s empty seat on Roger Ebert & the Movies, and have his excellent Hollywood adventures published (Warner Books is expecting the manuscript ASAP). Now Knowles, 28, is readying a half-hour pilot for a series that could air on Comedy Central in January.

Since the 4 1/2-year-old website is already breaking even, the TV gig, along with a new satellite radio show, could finally get Ain’t It Cool out of Knowles’ dad’s house in Austin, Tex., and into its own home. The rotund wonder is banking on it: Last spring, he says, he amicably declined an infusion of cash from the high-flying tech and entertainment investors , partly because it undervalued his company’s potential. And, notes the community-college dropout, ”because I’m a control freak.” Some may find that hard to believe when reading the Forrest Gump-ish style of his un-spell-checked news items, which competitors have blasted as being butt-kissing hype or just plain inaccurate. But Knowles has been carefully planning a television spin-off for years.

His first offers came back in 1998 when Matt Drudge, whose early website featured Knowles’ box office analyses, got a talk show on the Fox News Channel. Knowles knew that it was too early to cross over, and that a conventional movie-review show wouldn’t fly. ”I took a look at the box everyone works in and decided that it doesn’t fit my waist size,” he chuckles. Then he hooked up with Scott Carter, the original executive producer of Politically Incorrect. Carter is known for tailoring shows to fit a host’s personality, if not his pants. The result, which will mix live action with animated versions of the website’s scoop-generating spy reports, won’t threaten Roger Ebert — one Ain’t It Cool-er describes the pilot as part Pee-wee’s Playhouse, part McLaughlin Group. But it should make Entertainment Tonight look geriatric in comparison.

Creating a show that appeals both to industry insiders and film geeks the way the website does won’t be easy. ”On the Web there’s a certain mystique about what he does,” says Kevin Wendle, a cofounder of IFILM and former Fox TV exec. ”On television it’s all out there for the world to see.” Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Knowles has proven he’s got the heft to make big things happen.

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