A Look at Web Series

Soap opera fans who were traumatized by the announcement that ABC was cancelling the long-running All My Children and One Life to Live received some good news when it was revealed that the shows would survive with new episodes online.  If serial fiction can no longer survive on traditional broadcast TV, I think it's great to explore new business models through New Media.  Original shows on the Web have proven to be successful so there is hope that the sudsy dramas set in Pine Valley and Llanview will continue to delight viewers with new stories in their new format for years to come.

One of the best examples of an online blockbuster is Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, starring Neil Patrick Harris as a supervillain battling Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion.  It's a musical tour de force that won multiple awards, drew millions of viewers online, and is now making money through DVD and Blu-Ray sales.  It has inspired comic book adaptations as well as college and high school theatrical productions.  Professional versions of the musical were also produced in Las Vegas and Seattle.  Is Broadway on the horizon?  Whedon, best known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse (and the upcoming superhero team-up movie The Avengers), is working on a sequel to the mini-series and possibly a film version.

Sometimes, Web series lead to traditional television runs, such as Syfy's Sanctuary starring Stargate's Amanda Tapping as the long-lived Dr. Helen Magnus who leads a group searching for Abnormals, beings with extraordinary powers, often extremely dangerous.  Another show that started life online and moved to network TV is the comedy Childrens Hospital, a spoof of medical dramas.

Other times, traditional TV shows offer online spin-offs as ways to promote their brand.  Some examples include Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy, the Muppet's Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony, and Supernatural: Ghostfacers.  Celebrities also have used Web series to boost their careers -- Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, Kevin Pollack's Chat Show, William Shatner's The Shatner Project, and Seth McFarlane's Cavalcade of Comedy.

The original online-only programs are the most interesting, proving that creators of entertaining new content now have viable options for mass distribution and attracting an audience without being dependent on the studio and network gatekeepers.  From silly comedies like The Annoying Orange to soap opera melodramas like The Blackthornes, there are Web series for every taste.  If you enjoy mockumentaries, check out Dorm Life.  If you enjoy science fiction, look for Gemini Division, starring Rosario Dawson.  Many are very low-budget, like Ask a Ninja, while others have impressive production values (Quarterlife and the fan-made Star Trek: New Voyages - Phase II). 

Some are no longer being produced, but can still be found on the Internet, like Chad Vader.  Others continue to dish out new chapters, like the 600+ episode and counting Footprints.

Web series offer compelling stories, like the popular faux video blog Lonelygirl15 or the hilarious The Guild.  Some are simple one-man (or one-woman) shows, my favorite being iJustine, while others are quite close to the types of programs one might see on regular television (Riese, Whatever Hollywood, The Mercury Men, and Tom King's Wonderland.)

That's just the tip of the iceberg.  There are so many more that I will doubtless have to write follow-up essays to discuss some of the other Web series I didn't mention.