Originally published April 2013
2013 will be a banner year for original web production. Amazon has been ordering pilots, multichannel networks have been raising money, YouTube series are scaling up, and Netflix’s slate of programs is the envy of every channel, save HBO. With House of Cards behind it, and Hemlock Grove coming up (along with series from the likes of Weed‘s Jenji Kohan and the Wachowskis), the network is giving subscribers great value. Tellingly, its stock has rebounded from last year’s lows.
Netflix’s success has started a myth in TV critic circles: that its shows, the much-hyped Arrested Development in particular, are completely revolutionary in the web TV space. This began with Alyssa Rosenberg’s report from the company’s TCA press event and has been advanced by members of the cast. This month Willa Paskin pushed it further in Wired, saying Arrested Development could be a “comedic Rashomon.”
Given how groundbreaking Arrested Development was for network television — something I’ll be teaching this quarter — I have no doubt the Netflix show will be similarly innovative. Mitch Hurwitz free of network notes? It’s every TV lover’s dream.
Still, I’ve been cautioning critics not to forget that there has been web TV for over a decade, and in that time period, hundreds of series have ignited the passions of millions of fans, experimenting with production, narrative and distribution along the way.
But I’m only one person. Rather than take my word for it, I’ve invited a group of writers, producers and artists to tell you their stories in their own words. Hence, the Indie TV Innovation series.
The group of shows listed below is not representative of the depth and breadth of the web series market. Instead, I invited creators I know and have covered on this site whose projects I personally believe stand out from what we traditionally see on television. Some have huge audiences, some are very niche; some have won numerous awards, others exist on the industry’s peripheries. You’ll notice this group of producers is far more diverse — in style, business and demographics — than mainstream television. Each one is innovative in its own way.
Each week in April I’ll be publishing short essays from creative minds behind these shows and networks. I hope the series will be a resource for critics and scholars interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the indie TV space.
Posts will start tomorrow.
INDIE TV INNOVATORS
“Auteur Television Between Indie Film and TV,” by Jason Klorfein, April 2, 2013
Jason Klorfein is the producer of the web series F TO 7Th, a web series by Ingrid Jungermann, who co-created The Slope with Desiree Akhavan. The complete first season screened on Tuesday, April 2 at Anthology Film Archives in New York as part of the Friars Club Comedy Film Festival.
“For the Boy In Heart-Shaped Glasses,” by Jane Espenson and Brad Bell, April 3, 2013
Premiering in 2011, Husbands has earned praise for its stars, writers and crew from numerous sources, including The New Yorker, TIME, and Out magazine, along with awards from the IAWTV, Streamys and Webbys. Co-creators Jane Espenson and Brad Bell are currently on tour promoting Husbands, a comic published by Dark Horse. Last week CW Digital acquired distribution rights for the series.
“When Work Isn’t ‘Work,'” by Katja Blichfeld, Ben Sinclair and Russell Gregory, April 4, 2013
Premiering in 2012, High Maintenance follows a nameless cannabis delivery guy as he delivers much needed medication to stressed-out New Yorkers. It was created by Ben Sinclair and Emmy award-winning casting director Katja Blichfeld. They produce the series with Russell Gregory as Janky Clown Productions. Two three-episode cycles have been released. They are currently in production for the next cycle.
“Defining Web Series Success,” by Liz Shannon Miller, April 5, 2013
Liz Shannon Miller is a writer, watcher of web video and pop culture enthusiast. Based in Los Angeles, she wrote for G4′s Attack of the Show and currently contributes to the tech blog GigaOM, co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, co-edits the video curation site Here’s Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank. This essay builds on Miller’s earlier pieces on success in the web series market: “How Do You Define Web Series Success?” and “2013: The year of the web series second season?”
“It Was An Accident. My Final Word (For Now) on Jack in a Box,” Michael Cyril Crieghton, April 9, 2013
Jack in a Box is New York City-set sitcom. It won a 2013 Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Achievement in Writing Original New Media and was nominated in the same category in 2012. Jack in a Box also won Best Web Series at the 2010 New York Television Festival. It has been featured by numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, Tubefilter and NewTeeVee.
“Our Place in History,” by Tina Cesa Ward, April 11, 2013
Anyone But Me is a drama series, which concluded its three-season run in 2012. It has won numerous awards, including from the Streamys (lead actress), Writers Guild (original new media), IAWTV (directing), Indie Soap Awards (writing, guest appearance, marketing/fundraising), Clicker (best web drama), Tellys (people’s choice). It has been lauded by numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Curve and Fast Company. This essay is part of Televisual‘s “Indie TV Innovation” series.
“How to Believe in Miracles, Or Making A Career in the Digital Space,” by Julia Grob and Yamin Segal, April 17, 2013
East WillyB is an original series that chronicles the adventures of a Brooklyn Sports Bar owner and his motley crew of regulars as they deal with the trials and tribulations of living in a changing Brooklyn. Its pilot season premiered in 2011. Its first season, for which the producers raised $51,000 on Kickstarter, is currently airing on YouTube. It has been covered in over 50 media outlets including The New Yorker and New York Times, which called it the “Latino Show for the New Generation.”
“A Network for Creatives and Fans,” by Christin Mell, April 18, 2013
tello films is a subscription video network offering original programming for the lesbian market. It recently merged with OneMoreLesbian, adding free and pay-per-view video options to its offerings.
“Upsized and Downsized,” by Daryn Strauss, April 22, 2013
Downsized is a 2009 web drama. It was a 2012 Writers Guild nominee for original new media and has been celebrated in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Fast Company and Indiewire.
“Pioneering Underground TV,” Numa Perrier, by April 23, 2013
BLACK&SEXYTV is an independent video network on YouTube. An outgrowth of Dennis Dortch’s 2008 feature A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy, it has released five episodic series, including The Number, RoomieLoverFriends, That Guy, Hello Cupid, and The Couple, for which the network successfully crowdsourced a spin-off. It has been featured in Ebony, Clutch, Shadow and Act and Indiewire, and regularly collaborates with up-and-coming talent, including Issa Rae and Lena Waithe.
“How Two Broads Braved the Web,” by Ilana Glazer, April 29, 2013
Premiering in 2010, Broad City is a sitcom co-created by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. In March Comedy Central announced it was picking up the show for a 2014 release, with Amy Poehler producing alongside Jacobson and Glazer. The show is currently in production. It has been featured by theNew York Times, MTV, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Fader and The A.V. Club, among others.
“More than Creative,” by Matt Enlow, May 13, 2013
Now in its second season, Squaresville is a comedy about two geeks trapped in a boring small town. The series is distributed on Wonderly, Big Frame’s network for young women. Last year it took home three trophies at the International Academy of Web Television Awards, including best comedy series, best writing (comedy) and best ensemble.
“Green-lit By The Neutral Net,” by Ruth Livier, May 15, 2013
Ylse is a 2008 sitcom about a modern Americana and the quirky characters around her. It won a 2010 Imagen Award for best Internet sitcom and the audience favorite at the 2009 Rasquache Film Festival. Ylse creator Ruth Livier was the first person admitted to the Writers Guild for work in new media.