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Toward a History of the Web Series (Market) April 5, 2010

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Screengrabs of the homepage for American Cybercast, a late nighties web show network (orange outline mine)

I’ve been researching for an article on web programming, and I’ve found tons of interesting gems! I’d already known “webisodic programming” had dated back to 1995, and I’m well aware the Internet repeats itself. But what old newspaper and trade press articles suggest is just how similar to today the rhetoric around web content was 15 years ago.

Does anyone remember American Cybercast?


Rethinking “Post-Racial” November 20, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

I’d originally planned to do reams and reams of reading on this, and an extensive literature review, but I’m so busy writing, curating, filming, editing and researching other things I won’t get to it for another year, and I don’t want to cite some theories and miss others. Eventually I will have to do a full lit review on this, tying in key works from the critical race theory, etc., for my dissertation. When that happens, I’ll update or redo this post.

The subject has been bothering me to such a degree that if I don’t write it now, I’ll implode.

Now the question:

What does “post-racial” mean and why must we move past it? Come take a ride with me…


Academic Conferences: Presenting Post-Excitement November 20, 2009

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So I found out yesterday I’ll be going to the SCMS — Society of Cinema and Media Studies — conference in Los Angeles next year. This is somewhat exciting news because it would be my first conference with a significant group of film and television scholars.


But going to conference is sometimes fraught. Scholars apply months before their presentation date, so unless you pitch something brand-spanking new, the topic will be incredibly old by the time of your presentation.

In this case, I’m presenting a paper on “mumblecore” that I wrote well over a year ago. The paper is now in review at Cinema Journal, so, by the time of the conference, hopefully it will already be in print. Anyway, the paper was my first and last breath on the genre. Focusing on Joe Swanberg’s LOL, already old with a 2006 release, the paper argues that mumblecore cannot be understood outside of a “digital culture” moment and is a unique and important artistic “movement” (which is already over). Here’s the abstract:

Using the works of Joe Swanberg, primarily LOL, and weaving in films from other directors, this paper argues for mumblecore as a distinct form of realism based on a “digital aeshetic,” an aesthetic not merely in style and form, but also in the themes emanating from this form. This digital aesthetic, a result of theories from film and new media history, supports what I call “networked film,” both of which make mumblecore distinct from prior attempts at realism in film and distinguish it as an early 21st century phenomenon. Thanks to Leo Charney for advising me on this project.

Now that I’m researching web series and YouTube vlogs, I’d really love to present on that. It’s newer and fresher. But that will have to wait to 2011!

Sometimes — only sometimes! — the academy gets on my nerves. Still, I’m excited to speak at SCMS. Really fantastic scholars attend every year.

“Valemont” Wants Your Blood November 10, 2009

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UPDATE (11/29): MTV screened Valemont today at 6PM and the series is in talks for a possible second season produced for television.

ORIGINAL: I’ve been very busy with researching, freelancing, curating, etc. and really I haven’t had much time to sit down and enjoy any of the media I study. With that, instead of going to bed at a decent hour tonight, I opted to get caught up on MTV and Electric Farm Entertainment’s Valemont, which I’d written about for BusinessWeek last month. Turns out there’s a simple method to Electric Farm’s success: they know how to tell a good story. (The company has a record most web series producers would envy: Afterworld, Gemini Division, and Woke Up Dead were all pretty largescale productions by web show standards and each a hit in its own right.)

Valemont is a fascinating beast of a web series, because it’s got so much going on! (more…)

The Web Series Market: Research, Stage One November 7, 2009

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So at this point I’ve conducted around two dozen interviews with nearly thirty individuals working in the market for original (mostly scripted) web shows. It’s been fun! I still have much more to learn, but, being an academic, have already started writing. It’s what we do.

Here is the first full paper I’ve written on the topic. It’s pretty broad. The main point was to try and pinpoint how people talk about what web series mean and are for. Why make a series for an online audience? What makes it different from television or film? This essay is my attempt to put all those questions under one umbrella, while adding in some observations from the history of media (especially radio, surprisingly).

This is still a work in progress, so, as always, I very much appreciate comments, criticism, feedback, information, and even shameless plugs. Although I work at a university, I am far from all-knowing, and, in an area this new and constantly developing, I’m always missing things, sometimes really big things.

The paper is online here. Below is the title and abstract.

The Connection Industry: Making and Marketing Web Series

The ideal driving the making and marketing of original web series, however diversely produced and distributed, is quite consistent: connection. Producers – individual or corporate – want to connect with viewers, woo them to invest emotionally or intellectually in narratives or formats. Alongside quixotic personal investments and new age marketing speak, the aim is, chiefly, capital: money, notoriety, cultural significance or awareness of a personal or corporate brand. Yet fueled by technological advancements and broader cultural conditions, producers are flocking to the Internet, developing new ways of storytelling and information delivery, while investing considerable time and money all to reach and engage an amorphous and fickle audience. Using interviews with nearly thirty producers and executives, I argue this rhetoric of “connection” — with viewers and among producers — is fueling the development of this emerging media form.

The Rules and Meanings of Vlogging November 5, 2009

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My first academic article has been published! The article, published in First Monday, titled, “Real Vlogs: The Rules and Meanings of Online Personal Videos,” looks at how users on YouTube talk about what vlogs are “real” or authentic, and “fake” or inauthentic. Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores what the “rules” of vlogging (video blogging) are: the various visual and social practices viewers and creators understand and debate as either authentic or inauthentic on YouTube. It analyzes a small, random set of vlogs on YouTube and highlight several controversies around key celebrities on the site. This essay concludes by challenging whether conversations around authenticity will persist in dialogues about online video.

The paper looks several different kinds of vlogs to see to examine what visual strategies count as a real vlog and which ones do not.

In general, however, what is interesting is that even though, for some users, certain vlogs are definitely more authentic than others, a number of YouTubers either don’t care or expressly advocate for doing whatever you need to do to your video to get views. This pits the “authentic” with the “commercial.” But it’s not always an either/or presumption. The essay concludes by stating that the distinctions between what is real and fake may be collapsing, and users instead defer to whatever moves them emotionally — through hilarity, seriousness, etc.

I think the most valuable contribution of the piece might be the section on Lonelygirl15, which has been written about, but I really speak a long time combing through blog posts and new reports to figure out who said what about Bree, who thought she was fake and why, and what all of those conversations meant for the meaning of online video. I also narrate an interesting incident about LisaNova — when she first started LonesomeRhodes — that is a small incident within the scale of YouTube, but nonetheless a significant one, I would argue.

I’d also like to throw in, which I only allude to in the article, that many of the debates I highlight are really remnants of YouTube’s early days of popularity (2006/2007). By now, most people on the site have seen it all, and few things shock. These debates still happen though, as with the young girl who cried about her legal problems with sexual abuse, and the Raz-B incident, two incidents I write about elsewhere.

“Precious” and the Fight Against Representation October 20, 2009

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Mo-Nique and Gaboury Sidibe play two very troubled individuals in Precious.

Mo'Nique and Gaboury Sidibe play two very troubled individuals in Precious.

I saw Precious Wednesday (it’s accomplished, bound for Oscar greatness), but I’ll hold off on film criticism and instead talk about what I think the film means, and what I think it does for black cinema, a field I’m still learning about, so I would love comments and suggestions.

My thrust is simple: Precious is another shot in the fight against representation. Yes, “representation.” That big word that still refuses to go away in discussions about culture. Representation is what happens when media — television, film, web, books, music — come to take on cultural meaning. Images come to “represent” various things in society: gender, race, professional positions, etc. Courtney Cox comes to represent older women who desire younger men (Cougar Town); Steve Carell represents the small town businessman (The Office). Everything you see on a screen is a representation. Simple.

What’s wrong? Well, nothing can really represent one thing if it isn’t exactly that thing. Simple again. Not even our politicians can, in an intellectual sense, represent us. They can represent a majority or a plurality, but not all of us. Same with cultural representations. They are always imperfect. Some representations get a pass because they’re “positive,” but getting a complete pass is rare. (It’s still a minority of people who don’t like The Cosby Show, at least until recently. However much it skewed representations of black people, or, as Herman Gray argues in Watching Race, supports a conservative discourse, it’s still a “nice” representation. Most people give it a pass, but not everybody).

I’m getting to Precious, bare with me. (more…)

What is a Web Series? A Guide and Introduction October 9, 2009

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Michael Buckley and his popular YouTube show, "What the Buck"

Michael Buckley's show, "What the Buck," is a snappy daily overview of celebrity current events.

Crackle's new zombie/comedy series, Woke Up Dead

"Woke Up Dead" is a comedy horror series premiering on Crackle in the fall 2009.

"Valemont," MTV's hyper-interactive series from TV to Web

"Valemont" is a web series that premiered on MTV, is sponsored by Verizon and has multiple extensions in mobile and online.


Ikea's web series "Easy to Assemble" is a comic romp set inside its own stores.

What is a web series? To anyone in the industry right now, this post will be elementary. Apologies in advance. But I think for academics and maybe aspiring producers, this might be useful. I’ve had a bunch of hits on my old primer, but it’s rough at best. I’m also posting this so if you’re doing something with web series I don’t mention you can let me know — I want to have the most complete picture possible of this medium.

When I talk about researching web series to friends and colleagues, I often hear: “what do you mean by that?” There are hundreds (thousands, likely) of web series. Here’s my attempt to give people some basic information, based on ongoing interviews with producers, marketers, distributors and others.

Please, if I’m missing something or made an error, comment or contact! I’ll update with new information; I want this to be a resource.


FILM/TV: Web Series Research and Television Genres September 28, 2009

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I’ve been incredibly busy of late with various projects (lectures, editing documentaries, freelance and academic articles) and haven’t had time to post. Nevertheless I did want to give a couple scholarly updates.


First is really just a class assignment — click for report — on Jason Mittell’s Genre and Television. Mittell’s is a remarkably well-researched book that aims to refocus television studies around issues of genre. Mittell’s main point is that television genres are best studied not as texts, but as cultural discourses involving numerous agents, voices and factors — industrial producers, the media, audiences, network scheduling, policy, etc. Mittell looks at various genres and scandals — cartoons, police shows (Dragnet), talk TV, soaps (Soap), and quiz shows — and provides blueprints for analyzing them. I wrote a class report covering most of the book; it’s basically a summary with a little bit of analysis/review thrown in. I thought it might be a useful guide to people. Of course, if you’re studying television, you should own it! If not, it’s a good library checkout. Click here for the report.

Mittell’s book is particularly useful to me as I start researching the web series. There is such a diversity of series out there, I knew I had to go beyond the text (the narrative, visuals, production aspects of the shows themselves) in order to study it, at least at first. I’ve been talking producers, marketers, writers, actors and others involved with web series production and I’m beginning to formulate a thesis that examines web shows not as texts — like I said, huge diveristy — but as a form emerging from a discourse about what audiences want in a post-network age.

Maybelline's sponsorship of the Broadroom really epitomizes what sponsors want from web series, and what many of the deals in this market look like at the moment.

Maybelline's sponsorship of the Broadroom really epitomizes what sponsors want from web series, and what many of the deals in this market look like at the moment.

The beginnings — the tiny sprouts from the seedlings — of that argument I written in a report here (click) on the market for web series. This report is not really intended for publication, i.e. I’m not submitting it anywhere, but more as a way to guide my thoughts around this issue. It’s not perfect; for one, I sort of drop my thesis about half way through and I think I quoted some sources pretty crudely (both mistakes are due to time), but it at least allows a glimpse into how I’m trying to interpret these things. I very much welcome comments and constructive criticism!

Hopefully I’ll have published soon a freelance article based on the same interviews, which will delve into a much more specific aspect of the web series market.

I’m also hoping to explore in more depth the role of fandom for web series (it’s only alluded to in the report above). It’s crucial, really for all media production today, and I’ll be fleshing out those ideas for a course I’m taking with the esteemed Henry Jenkins this fall!