The web series genre, as we know it, is dying.
There, I said it.
I know that The Guild just got an article written about it in the Wall Street Journal and I know I just announced that Break a Leg got a network deal — but, as a whole, the web series genre is laying in its hospital bed and watching its life ebb quietly away. It lays there and it remembers what once was — it remembers the fetal kicking of The Burg, it remembers the crowning head of Break a Leg, and it remembers the bursting forth of LonelyGirl15 out of its vagina.
And now it stares listlessly into space as the nurses give it a periodic injection of The Guild, Season 3 or a short-lived, celebrity-laden web series that prolongs its life by just a few more months.
The web series is dying, but I’m hopeful.
Do you know why I’m hopeful?
Because I’ve periodically, in articles, blogs and to drunk people around me, muttered bitterly about the fact that the genre just isn’t working. We as a community have often celebrated the wrong successes (oh, wow, “Fred” the high-pitched talking 16 year old got a network deal?! There is a chance for high-quality content to succeed after all! Write more about it, NewTeeVee! Everyone must know of his genius!) and stopped short of fostering the talent that could’ve pushed us forward.
In general, we’ve treated one another as star performers in the Special Olympics — yay, you made a video! You’re so good! Instead of critically judging one another, we’ve set the bar so incredibly low that a show with a few marginal actors and one or two laughs is sheer genius. We also, as I wrote in my article from a year ago, celebrated the low-budget show — the show with non-actors, non-writers, non-filmmakers — as if we were talentless hippie San Francisco artists desperately hoping to be artists in our failure to do art (sorry, San Francisco hippies — you’re not all like that, but I live here, I’ve been to art shows and plays — it’s not pretty).
I’m hopeful because it seems to me that we’ve finally dropped the act and now just think that the whole damn genre is failing. But that’s okay. Bitterness passes and I desperately hope that it will open into a debate, an open forum where we can think of ideas to recreate prior successes and build something much bigger, much more potent than anything we had before.
That said — I’ve decided to start the discussion that will, because I’m eternally optimistic, change entertainment. Okay? Okay.
So, here are four of my own suggestions to remake the web series genre:
1. Let’s stop bashing TV and figure out a way to work with networks. The fact is, unless it’s a network-funded show, very few web shows can compete with TV shows, and I’m talking about in everything — writing, visuals, acting and so on. Network TV is hurting though, and aside from maybe the Colbert Report, none of them really know how to utilize the web to increase viewership. Not only that, but most of them refuse to even think outside the box to attempt new media-style marketing.
My solution? We need to get to a place where web shows are like the minor leagues to TV’s major leagues.
We need network people to step up and start working with prominent web creators and people in the space. People like Quincy Smith from CBS Interactive (who I hear is quitting the network… fantastic) have the power to, say, create a site that would specifically focus on finding the best of the best web shows and both shop them to networks while helping them gain a following.
People like Felicia Day, Kent Nichols, the Big Fantastic guys and hell, even me and my crew, can work together to create and help others create content that isn’t good for the web but just good.
2. Tilzy.tv, Tubefilter.tv and NewTeeVee.com should not only review shows and throw them into their ever-growing mammoth collection of web series but also focus on finding the cream of the crop. As journalists, it’s their job to find the little nuggets of gold — shows that perhaps no one is watching — and not only review them, but champion them. The Guild, Dr. Horrible, any show with a celebrity — these will always get constant write-ups. And I can’t complain, because that’s mostly the same thing with Break a Leg, the Burg, and the other bigger shows — but I have yet to see them really push a show I’ve never heard of to the mass public.
Tim Goodman of the SF Chronicle was a huge supporter of Arrested Development and one of the reasons that helped them continue production. Yes, it’s the SF Chronicle — but I know the guys at Tilzy, Tubefilter and NewTeeVee — all are extremely talented journalists and I think if they tried hard, they could really help propel shows forward.
3. The Streamys were a genius way to give the genre credibility. On this next go around, it has to get bigger, better, flashier. It has to feel professional. Every joke has to hit — Lisa Kudrow, while brilliant, should not out-perform every presenter by messing up on the teleprompter. It should be a show that not only YouTube-dwellers want to watch, but people who’ve never watched a web show in their life would want to watch. The Streamys have so much potential that if we all work together and nail it, it could be a huge help to the entire genre.
4. I’m fully embracing branded entertainment. What I don’t understand is how bigger companies haven’t picked out a high-quality show, funded a season and asked them to, say, create a few shorts that both advertise their show and the product. Then what you end up having is a running internet show and ready-to-air commercials that can have the whole, “See more at: www.blahblah.tv” slate at the end. $100,000 isn’t that much money for someone like Proctor & Gamble — but it can create them a full web series and a buncha TV commercials. It would also drive traffic to the site and market itself circularly.
How is this not happening yet? How many Burger King burgers does David Penn have to eat?
Right now, the web series is dying — and maybe, just maybe, we can replace some of its limbs with bionic body parts and help create a super hero.
These are just some of my ideas — they could all potentially be awful and bankrupt the entire world (who knows these days?!) — so, let’s hear yours and let’s fix this damn thing.