So a friend of mine became involved in a web series project this fall. The collaboration was spearheaded by a guy who had an idea for a TV show. Rather than go about producing it the traditional way — write a pilot, find a director, find some money, film a pilot, hope it gets picked up — this guy bought a bunch of air time around 1 AM on ABC Family. This is the kind of time that is generally bought by infomercials and evangelicals. But this guy thought that if he could put his show on at this time, and get a cult following, then maybe the network would pick it up for real. They started filming.
The show underwent many changes over the next few months. It went from scripted to loosely scripted to unscripted. Several crew members quit. There was an incident in which no one was paid, and then there was a threat to pull funding, and it was all documented on the internet and in some major print publications.
But finally the show wrapped it’s 12 or so episodes and the creator sent off the footage he edited to ABC Family. ABC Family issued him a refund and stated that the show was rejected “because it did not meet our standards for programming for time buy purchases.” That’s basically like, saying this show was not good enough to be a late-night infomercial, which is really saying something.
So they released it as a web series. And now, according to the creator, it’s one of the top web series on Blip.tv (100 points if you guess what show I’m talking about, 1000 if you guess which actress I know) — so why was it not good enough for ABC, but WAAAY good for the internet?
In my opinion the ease of access has encouraged users on YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv etc to get pretty lazy. On the show I’m talking about, there are often out of focus scenes, bad camera angles, discontinuities. There is sound distortion. The sets lack detail. It is clear they are filming in one apartment but the narrative and a couch switch claim it to be two separate places. The same kinds of technical issues and lack of detailed work are found on many web series I have seen. They get away with using one camera in a fixed location (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) or flat out exploit low-quality cinematic choices (Between Two Ferns). These programs would likely NEVER succeed on a major network (with the possible exception of Between Two Ferns because it’s like… Zach Galiflanakis). Maybe they’d find homes on niche cable channels (like IFC or something, where the low-quality “choice” might be seen as “ironic”) but for the most part, real TV is way better than the web series. I think web videos are fun and easy to make, and with immediate feedback options? It’s so alluring. Your average joe on YouTube doesn’t really care if the jump cuts are awkward or the tripod is tilted. It has become part of the “genre” of web tv that it is a little (often very) shoddy.
I’m not amused and while I’m not saying I WON’T ever make or watch a web series, I sincerely hope their quality improves. Who would be entertained by or even be able to follow a complex show like 24 or The Wire if it were filmed in one room in someone’s clearly fake house that was out of focus and hard to hear?