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Web Series Like 'The Guild,' 'Sorority Forever' Are in a Prime Time of Their Own
And then there are the smaller-name channels -- Strike.tv offers more than 40 original series; Koldcast.tv has around 70 -- as well as the hundreds of independent filmmakers who self-promote their shows. Most series comprise short episodes topping out at four or five minutes apiece and are released online in a variety of ways -- a new episode a day, 10 new ones at once or on a traditional weekly schedule.
"A couple of years ago we would cover every new series," says Liz Gannes, founder of NewTeeVee.com, which launched in late 2006. "Now there's no way we would think about it. ABC just launched a whole new interactive Web series and I barely had time to look at it."
"There are literally thousands of shows out there," says Marc Hustvedt, co-founder of TubeFilter.tv, which has been reviewing Web series for a year. "I think 3,000 would be a conservative estimate."
The recent feast is in many ways a result of the writers' strike famine of 2007-08, in which professional screenwriters found themselves out of work and lacking a creative outlet. Some used the time to go online, away from Writers Guild restrictions, and pour energy into low-budget pet projects.
Joss Whedon of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame wrote "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," which chronicled the romantic mishaps of a wannabe nemesis and persuaded Neil Patrick Harris to star. With songs inspired by Stephen Sondheim, the three-part series gained a cult following and garnered critical acclaim from both rabid Whedonites and mainstream media outlets. Time magazine, ignoring the show's online identity, named it the fourth best TV show of 2008 -- ahead of "The Wire" and "Lost."
Remembering the success of LonelyGirl15, online production company Big Fantastic cast Jessica Rose, the lonely girl herself, in "Sorority Forever" on TheWB.com. She plays Julie, a Phi Chi Kappa pledge who discovers secret passageways and unexplained disappearances in addition to the frat parties and mandatory weigh-ins.
Rose also landed a role in the forthcoming Web thriller series "Blood Cell" and co-founded her own Web production company called Webutantes. "It's not the career I envisioned when I set out to be an actress," says Rose, who had assumed that she would transition to movies after paying her dues online. She'd have more money in that scenario, she says wryly. Though bigger-name Web series do have ad partnerships and sponsors, no one's making the profits -- or getting the salaries -- of movies or broadcast television.
But practical matters aside, Rose has learned to view online stardom as its own endgame. The Web has become, she says, "the new mainstream."
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If there are 3,000 Web shows and if each series has, say, five episodes, and if each episode is roughly two minutes long, that represents 500 hours of online television available online, with more being produced every day.
Which is enough to make you want to crawl back to the sofa and regress to a bunny ear antenna.