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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?

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That Was Fast: Web Series Remix “How to Make It In America” March 25, 2010

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Also filed under: “Things that make me feel old at the age of 25.” How quickly can one create a series riffing off a new HBO show? In a few weeks, apparently.

Smoke DZA, a rapper I’ve never heard of — excuse! This is a film and TV blog! I don’t do music — has crafted a web series called How to Make It in Harlem. Judging from the trailer, which I found thanks to The Rah Rah, it’s basing its concept heavily on HBO’s How to Make It in America. There’s a bit of inevitability to an independent artist taking HBO’s faux-grit and filming in an actually gritty part of town, Harlem (sort of; let’s be real, Neil Patrick Harris lives there).

The trailer’s a pretty faithful remix of the HBO show’s opening credits; same large white fonts, snapshot photo technique. Take a look:

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An Actor Turns Entrepreneur: Al Thompson Sells His Web Series to Atom March 24, 2010

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Originally published on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog

Al Thompson got his big break from an unlikely production: a New York University student short film called “3D” that screened at Sundance 10 years ago. Hollywood came calling, auditions were scheduled and he spent weeks crashing in Los Angeles with actor friends. Thompson took this couch-hopping experience and wrote a Web series, “Johnny B. Homeless,” which generated buzz at last year’s New York Television Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award.

The show’s critical success drew interest from Viacom and Comedy Central’s Atom.com, which this week announced that it had bought the nine-episode first season and committed to a second season. “Johnny B. Homeless” will also air on “Atom TV,” Comedy Central’s half-hour late night series. The first episode is planned for a May release.

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The Old Internet Is New Again: ‘If I Can Dream’ and Chatroulette March 11, 2010

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Original at SpliceToday

Does anyone remember Jennifer Ringley and Sean Patrick? Over 10 years ago, tens of thousands of Americans brought The Truman Show to reality by broadcasting themselves live for anyone to see. Webcams, people forget (especially people my age), were the original web videos. JenniCam and Sean Patrick Live drew thousands of viewers and became one-person brands long before Fred and Ryan Higa. Webcams were low-res and low-energy, but they were voyeurism incarnate.

You know the Internet is old when it starts to repeat itself. (more…)

‘Lost’ Alum Finds His Way on the Web with ‘Valemont’ March 10, 2010

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Valemont writer Christian Taylor with the cast. Original posted at Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy

Television matured by coaxing workers away from the Hollywood film system and onto the small screen. Today even smaller screens are enticing writers and producers looking for new opportunities, more innovation and less bureaucracy.

That’s certainly true of the creative team behind MTV’s mobile and web series, Valemont, whose co-creator Brent Friedman and writer/director Christian Taylor have roughly three decades of film and television experience between them. Last week Valemont pulled in six nominations at the second annual Streamy Awards, which honors original Web video. Valemont’s nods included best writing and best drama series, joining such series as The Bannen Way and The Guild.

For Taylor, whose past credits include Lost, Six Feet Under and an Oscar nomination for his short film The Lady in Waiting, writing for new media was far from easy.

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“Real Girls” Are More Diverse, Less Frivolous February 22, 2010

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Last week, I wrote about how influential Sex and the City had been to various web series creators. Along those lines, I asked the creative team behind a new (gay) series about women, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, to talk about how they developed their show and what the philosophy behind it was. Carmen Elena Mitchell, the executive producer and writer, wrote me back and filled me in on the behind-the-scenes planning. The show premiered last week.

The main goal behind The Real Girl’s Guide was to offer an alternative on Sex and the City (particularly the film).

“We got into this conversation about the world of Sex and the City…the world of rich, white, straight fashionistas. And it started me thinking – what’s the inverse of that world?,” I was told. “Perhaps a more ethnically diverse world where materialism is not valued, where being straight is not ‘assumed,’ where a woman’s goals do not end at getting married or finding the perfect pair of ridiculously expensive shoes.”

Interestingly, however, it’s about more than just the story. Real Girl’s also provides opportunities for actors of color who are often typecast by traditional media. This is something I’ve heard from other web series producers.

Below, the creators talk to me about finding financing, producing extra content to engage fans, what’s good about The L Word, troubling about Sex and the City, and what a “web series” is!

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Finding a Comedy Audience in a Crowded Web Series Market February 19, 2010

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Originally posted at Ronebreak.

[Note: I had a very insightful interview with MyDamnChannel’s CEO and a representative from FTVS’ 15 Gigs, both of which are really thinking about how to scale the web series market. I’ll be posting more of that interview in the coming week.]

Online comedy hasn’t been kind to television studios looking to break in. Remember Turner’s SuperDeluxe or NBC’s DotComedy? FunnyOrDie and CollegeHumor still run the game, but competition’s always bubbling up.

Fox Television Studios and its digital arm 15 Gigs’ have decided they need a more targeted push for their series Iceman Chronicles, so they’ve partnered up with comedy upstart MyDamnChannel, who’s looking to expand its library including such hits as You Suck At Photoshop and IKEA’s Easy to Assemble.

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Web Series Remix “Sex and the City” February 17, 2010

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Anyone who’s looked into web series knows most shows are marketed like traditional television shows are. Pitching a show to Hollywood, you come up with an easily digestible equation: Glee = High School Musical + The Simpsons (or some other “transgressive” show) or Flash Forward = Lost + Heroes (Season 1). You get the idea. If they aren’t hybrids, most shows are pure derivatives (Cashmere Mafia = Sex and the City, basically), or slight variations (Parks & Recreation = The Office + female lead). This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but, as Todd Gitlin argues in Inside Primetime, in an industry with so many unknowns, relying on past success is key. Shows that stand out entirely, like Arrested Development, are rare.

Same with web series. I just did a write of a show that was Twin Peaks + funnier. Or how The Crew is The Office + Star Trek. I’m surprised at how often Dallas and Dynasty get mentioned as influences by web series creators. As with TV, it doesn’t mean the shows are bad; all culture relies on variations of known stories.

Still, I’m amazed at how important Sex and the City has been to web video. It strikes me that, aside from perhaps The Office, no mainstream show has been as influential to creators.

So what’s the deal and how have producers worked with the canonical series?

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List of Gay and Lesbian Web Series Up! February 1, 2010

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I’ve been meaning to do it for months, and I finally took the time to compile a list of gay and lesbian web series (mostly independent) and it’s up!

Here’s the list.

Some interesting things to consider/remember.

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YouTube’s Black Stars: A Look Back (and Ahead) January 25, 2010

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Over a year ago I conducted a little more than a dozen interviews with black vloggers on YouTube. While I never submitted the paper (draft version here) to an academic publication, I did use some of the interviews for an article on The Root. That article focused on the more popular vloggers, but recently I’ve been wondering what happened to the rest of the people I interviewed. Have they grown their audiences? Are they making money?

YouTube remains a mixed bag for minority vloggers, though I tend to air on the side of optimism. Several personalities have achieved stable and even growing audiences, as you’ll see below!

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“Anyone But Me” Creators On Web Series, Coming Out and Being The “Un-Gossip Girl” December 20, 2009

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Original at Ronebreak!

When Sylar orders you to do something, you better do it.

Starting its second season this week, Anyone But Me, probably America’s first full lesbian teen series, has gained its share of fans, including Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek), through is intimate, nuanced storytelling.

“Life at sixteen is fraught and fertile for drama,” said writer Susan Miller, a veteran of The L Word and thirtysomething, who wrote the show with director Tina Cesa Ward. “Anyone But Me shines a light on identity – coming to terms with who we are as gays, African Americans, women, and citizens of the world.”

The show has carved a niche for itself in a relatively crowded field. The web has been home to dozens of series about gays and lesbians. People of color have shows like Drama Queenz and the Lovers and Friends Show. Shows aimed at gay men like In the Moment are equally diverse, and lesbian series have devised interesting and addictive gimmicks, like the HBO-funded web series Time Travelling Lesbian and B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye.

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“Orlando’s Joint:” Urban, Stoned And Running A Business December 11, 2009

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Originally published at Ronebreak!

There’s a long history of “urban” and black cartoons in the U.S., most of which I don’t know, so I won’t get into it. Needless to say, the lo-fi web series Orlando’s Joint, about a young man who inherits a second-rate coffee shop, is an interesting contribution to a genre dominated now by Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks. Orlando’s Joint — as in a shop, but also, you know, that other kind of joint — is a comedic series that explores running a local urban business, growing up and being not-so-rich in contemporary Los Angeles. Oh yes, it’s also pretty funny.

Orlando Reed, our protagonist, is a “stoner” (something of a slacker), but he inherits an coffee shop — that isn’t Starbucks — and clearly intends to reinvigorate it with the help of two friends a few kooky characters.  The series creator Terence Anthony said in the interview below he wanted to buck stereotypes and be a bit provocative.

I noticed some interesting links between this series and other independents I’ve encountered. One is an interesting coincidence: both Anthony and Chris Wiltz (from yesterday’s post about Semi-Dead) are alums of Bill Cosby’s film fellowships! Another has become predictable: in order to produce a completely no-budget series you need good friends and, most importantly, passion (passion breeds passion). No surprise there. The last thing I hear often is a general disenchantment with the TV industry; that’s from nearly every producer, no matter how successful they were in the biz.

I spoke with Anthony about the show, being independent and what it means to make a black web series today.

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Super-Indie Web Series “Semi-Dead” Advances Horror-Comedy Trend December 10, 2009

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Web series are great spaces for narrative experimentation and genre-bending. Many of the most popular shows are genre hybrids, especially with comedy (sci-fi comedy, fantasy comedy, etc.). This fall, we’ve seen several series blending horror and comedy including Electric Farm Entertainment and Jon Heder’s Woke Up Dead on Crackle, where it’s doing well; Babelgum’s The Occulterers; I Kissed a Vampire; not to mention rumors of a potential Buffy web series from Joss Whedon.

Chris Wiltz, a young filmmaker, decided to go the zombie route and spent his own money filming Semi-Dead, a buddy comedy about two roommates in living in Los Angeles after its been overrun with zombies. Each guy has a very different reaction to the event: one, Joe, “goes into survival mode,” while the other Chris, goes about his life as if nothing has happened.

“The show is really about the personality clash and how these two cope with living together – all while the truth of what’s happening to the city slowly begins to reveal itself,” Wiltz said.

I spoke with Wiltz about Semi-Dead and producing and distributing an independent (black) web series, the challenges and advantages. The third episode airs next week Wednesday, with the rest airing monthly until the season finale — with a twist! — in March.

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Beyond “Black Hulu:” Rowdy Orbit’s Ambitious Bid To Build A Web Series Market December 7, 2009

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After 90 episodes of about a dozen web shows published less than three months into its beta launch, Rowdy Orbit founder Jonathan Moore claims this is only the beginning. The site plans to launch six to ten webisodes in the next two weeks, and hopes to be going at a rate of 12 to 15 new shows a month in 2010 — plans I teased in my earlier post, “Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Online Video.”

Needless to say, that’s a lot of shows by and about people of color! Are there even enough series out there to support this kind of development? (more…)

Lo-Fi Survives the Age of High-Tech and Big Budgets December 4, 2009

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Original at Splice Today. Comment there!

It’s the visual equivalent of wearing flannel or drinking black coffee. Retro ebbs and flows, classic comes and goes, but Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox pushes me to believe we are in a lo-fi moment.

You cannot write for a living and avoid silly trend stories; it’s inevitable. We naturally look for patterns, and we have blank pages to fill. Still, I think this may be legit.

First, take the reviews for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (more…)

Fine Brothers: Making and Marketing Hit Videos, Today and Tomorrow December 1, 2009

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I’ve already posted some comments from the Fine Brothers before, but I thought I’d post the whole interview, which we did via email a couple months ago (Sorry folks! Scholars are slow). The Fine Brothers — Benny and Rafi Fine — are two standout comedians in an online world awash in aspirants. They’ve created numerous viral videos and web shows, not to mention collabing with some of YouTube‘s heavy hitters to create very successful parodies and comedic shorts.

They also happen to be pretty shrewd about how they market themselves and conduct their business, so I thought this interview — unedited, below — could help out people starting to make their own videos or interested in learning more about the space. Their response to my last question was particularly interesting: “At the end of the day online video is not a place to go to ‘make it,’ and we feel many come into the space feeling they will.” But they go on to say that the web still shows promise, if certain things happen. Very interesting, and perhaps true given current conditions.

Below Benny and Rafi talk to me about how they got started, how they make and market their videos and why success online may not be their ultimate goal: (more…)

“Drama Queenz” Returns With A Fierceness (And A Few Guest Stars!) November 29, 2009

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The vast majority of original, independent web series never make it to season two. Producing season one takes so much time and money, when the millions of viewers never materialize, creators can’t bring themselves to invest more precious time and money. (At this point, I’d almost prefer most market themselves as “miniseries until proven otherwise”!)

Drama Queenz, a show about three black gay men trying to make it in New York’s theatre world, and its creator Dane Joseph then deserve a huge pat on the back. It’s a Herculean effort.

Remarkably, Joseph edited and marketed the first season while in graduate school at Columbia University, then shot season two, which comes out today. Now that, as they say in theatre, is gumption!

What’s more, the second season promises lots of hijinks, along with guest appearances  from some of my favorite YouTube personalities!

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“Kindred,” A Spirited Web Series On A Mission November 29, 2009

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Living Single and Girlfriends exist today in nostalgia, firmly in the annals of television history but only occasionally as a rerun on a niche network.

Who are their children? Certainly cable networks have tried to pick up the torch by giving Jada Pinkett Smith, Jill Scott and Sherri Shepherd their own shows, each of which (HawthoRNe, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Sherri) have had varying levels of success, most of it good.

But television currently lacks a show by and for “sistas.” Enter SistaPAC productions. The five-year old independent production company, having explored theatre and short film, has released what may be their most ambitious effort yet, a web series: Kindred.

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B. Scott Reimagines Celebrity Online November 23, 2009

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a web personality more fascinating than the splendiferous, divine B. Scott. Ever since Madison Moore introduced me to the blogger and YouTuber a couple years ago, I’ve been ever more intrigued!

Since then, B. Scott’s star has risen. His website has seen its traffic balloon (Compete, Quantcast) and his YouTube channel has kept apace.

Last month when I heard B. Scott snagged an interview with Mariah Carey and launched his new B. Scott Show, I thought: this is it! B. Scott continues to revolutionize the production and consumption of celebrity on the web.

What has he done?

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“Buppies” Review: Drama With A Light Touch November 21, 2009

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Check out other reviews at Thembi Ford, Shadow and Act. Thank you to Racialicious for reposting this!

I’ve written and spoken a lot about Buppies for this blog and elsewhere, but that’s only because I think it’s a significant development within the history of original web shows.

Buppies is upon us; the BET-distributed, CoverGirl-sponsored scripted web series premieres this Tuesday, Nov. 24th (Hopefully. BET has already pushed back the premiere once to expand its marketing).

The show is a “mad-cap romp” through a day in the life of Quinci, played by Fresh Prince‘s Tatyana Ali, a socialite and publicist enduring lots of drama amidst L.A.’s black upper crust. During this very bad day, she and her friends face issues of sexuality, pregnancy, dating, race, and careers and, most importantly, handle them in fabulous clothes! (more…)