Web Series Are Coming Into A Prime Time of Their Own
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Seen any good TV lately? I have. I haven't seen it on TV, though, not even replayed on Hulu.com. Hulu is amateur hour. I'm deep into Web-only stuff right now. And it's really, really good.
Take "The Guild" (I am obsessed with "The Guild"), which is so dorky-hilarious it makes you wish you were a serious gamer so you could hang out with Codex and her friends. And "Sorority Forever," which at first seems lame and blond until suddenly it turns spooky and kind of awesome. "You Suck at Photoshop" has an amazing voice-over, Rosario Dawson is gorgeous in "Gemini Division" (can you believe her fiance was a government robot?), and the dual story lines in "Before Judgment" and "After Judgment" are almost as ambitious as "Lost."
Used to be, these Web series were known as webisodes. But that term was a cutesy play on "TV episode," and implied a diminutive and substandard product -- an experiment that was not-quite-television, and that probably couldn't get picked up by NBC or its ilk.
Today, most of these shows still probably won't be purchased for prime time by a broadcast network, but that's not necessarily an insult. In the past year, Web series have grown into a separate genre of entertainment, with their own awards ceremonies, critics and rabid fan followings.
The shows don't look exactly like the traditional television series we're used to, but if you're willing to adapt to the medium you might discover something surprising: You can become a very satisfied television addict without ever straying from your laptop. When done right, the experience can be more intimate, more creative and more personal than you ever expected.
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In the beginning, there was LonelyGirl15.
Grainy and amateurish, she vlogged into her webcam for all of YouTube to see, and as her story got creepier, her audience grew. Was she a real teen, dangerously involved in a religious cult? Or were the videos actually teasers for a movie, something "Blair Witch"-y?
The actual answer, when it was revealed in summer 2006, seemed the most bizarre: LonelyGirl wasn't a prelude to anything but rather an independent series, one that eventually spanned hundreds of episodes and thousands of fans. How odd. What kind of series would broadcast online only, with episodes just three minutes long? What was this thing?
How far online TV has come.
To find a Web series today, you could sift through the vastness of YouTube. But why bother when there are entire networks out there that produce or aggregate series for you? Most media corporations have online counterparts: Warner Bros. has TheWB.com, for example, which hosts 14 original Web series; NBC's Web site has 12, including "Gemini Division"; and Sony's Crackle.com has about 40, including its biggest hit, "Angel of Death," which is about a reformed assassin who decides to go after her former employers.