Let’s just get this out of the way. Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible was an important (and entertaining) moment in web video. It helped legitimize the medium and showed the world that you could make a successful show outside of the Hollywood system. But that was more […]

drhorribleLet’s just get this out of the way. Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible was an important (and entertaining) moment in web video. It helped legitimize the medium and showed the world that you could make a successful show outside of the Hollywood system. But that was more than a year a year ago. What has the web video industry done since?

Cat videos, mostly.

OK. I’m exaggerating and being too cantankerous, but I feel like we in the web video world are just resting on Whedon’s laurels. Rather than being inspired by him, it’s like we’re collectively waiting for him to do it again.

Am I expecting too much? Perhaps Horrible was just a fluke that won’t be replicated. It was all-but pre-ordained that Dr. Horrible would be a hit. Whedon was already a Hollywood name who had created two pop culture franchises in Buffy and Firefly. He made Dr. Horrible for $200,000 of his own money (an amount I’d wager most of us don’t have to spend on a passion project), and leveraged the heck out of his entertainment connections (something else most of us don’t have) to get an all-star cast, a studio backlot (for $900!) and a crew.

To be sure, Dr. Horrible did great things to build awareness of web video. It generated a ton of mainstream press coverage. It made numerous critics’ top ten best TV shows lists. And it has grossed $2.5 million (web series making money = good). But who has been the real recipient of that success? The web video industry or Joss Whedon?

At the end of the day, did the success of Dr. Horrible just prove that new media is still reliant on old media to create hits?

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  1. Anthony DeLosa Saturday, August 8, 2009

    It’s so funny because I just was talking about this. It would seem to me the gatekeepers and the people who control the purse strings think a “name” has a better shot of becoming “Dr. Horrible” than an indie content creator has of producing the next “Guild.”

  2. What have you produced lately Chris?

    1. @Fraser – Mainly blog posts. :) Regardless of how many shows I have or haven’t produced, I think I can still raise the question.

  3. Actually, I think there are plenty of web shows that are successful, both creatively and visually. And for cheap! The Guild and The Crew are two examples. And I saw a trailer for one about a monster hunter. Emerson Wild: Monster Hunter I think was the name. Mercury Men is another. And those look amazing for being just web shows! I do love Dr. Horrible though.

  4. I think your argument rests too much on success versus content. Can we talk about what other web series are out there, how there is actually quite intelligent, entertaining and surprisingly well done web series with low or no budgets? Or is it just the cat videos we always go to? I can name at least five web series that I started watching this year that I have enjoyed as much as Dr Horrible.

    Sure, they aren’t generally as well produced (mainly due to a lack of financial backing and/or resources), but they are entertaining. Isn’t that what really matters? If something is well done for the budget and entertaining, then it is contributing to the overall shape of web video. Dr Horrible was a one off series, it’s over. I loved it, and in fact it is (to date) my favourite contemporary musical, but I’ve moved on. There are web shows out there producing more than one season, and that to me is a bigger thing. There are sites picking up series and paying the producers for streaming, and that’s a step forward too.

    And never mind the fact that you didn’t even mention The Guild, which I think has done far more for web series than Dr Horrible ever could.

  5. By the way Albrecht, implying that there hasn’t really been that much happening in web video since Dr Horrible doesn’t really show a lot of support for the reports sites like NewTeeVee publish. Good for debate though, so if you wanted a rise out of people, I’d say you’re getting it ;)

    1. Chris Albrecht Amy Saturday, August 8, 2009

      Support comes in all different forms. I’m a huge web video champion. Part of that means I always want the industry to do better than what’s come before.

      Also, I wouldn’t say I’m trying to get a “rise” out of people. Just trying to spark a healthy debate.

  6. Yes it’s true having mainstream success can certainly help get the word out there about a webseries, however having quality entertainment and a good story can also help. Take a look at this webseries: http://www.getloshed.com Episode 3 being the best. All 3 were done for under $2500

  7. Another good web series is Maddison Atkins (http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=maddisonatkins) which is well worth watching because it uses the web format so well. There is also OzGirl ( http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=ozgirltv which was innovative in its use of a documentary format.

    So good shows are not the problem. Creating hit shows is the problem and since around the time of Dr. Horrible main stream media began to dominate the online distribution networks. Perhaps the question you should be asking is how can the existing good shows get noticed.

    Certainly an article on Newteevee, Tubefilter or LG15 Today does not do the trick. It is extremely difficult to get mainstream press. We know that promotion by social networks is highly effective but for that to happen you either have to be extremely lucky of pay for placement. There are content distribution networks that claim to be able to deliver views on a pay per play basis but they have yet to demonstrate that their view numbers are legitimate. So, that leaves us in a position where we have valuable content but no real mechanism for placing it in front of the viewers in a way that it rises above the “noise”.

  8. mystery child Saturday, August 8, 2009

    I think maybe someone isn’t actually looking for good internet web shows… otherwise, he might find them.

    I was addicted to Harper’s Globe and pray that it makes it onto the Harper’s Island DVD (btw, many who watched HG didn’t even bother with HI, and it was a stand-alone show)

    I’m seriously looking forward to a little show called Riese that is slated to appear this month at http://riesetheseries.com/ and others already mentioned the Guild (which helped inspire Dr. Horrible, btw!), among others.

    Not only that, but have you heard of Level 26? If not, you should learn about it. It’s taking the internet to a whole new level by combining a novel with video clips to go along with the story. And they don’t even have Joss Whedon. How ever will they succeed?

    1. Level 26 has Anthony Zuiker. He created a li’l Hollywood show called CSI. I interviewed him at Comic-Con:


  9. Chris Williams Saturday, August 8, 2009

    I vote that it was a good thing! Dr Horrible legitimized the web video industry (if not started it) as a original source content. We’re no longer Public Access. We produce things!

    I’ve been involved in a new web series, The Variants, that doesn’t have Whedon’s purse for funding but we certainly have his belief that good content can be made without a major studio.

  10. good article for real discussion here.

    let’s take a step further back and also ask whether lonelygirl15 was the best or worst thing to happen to web video. while lonelygirl15 had its charms, a huge amount of its success and audience size was due to its status as a “hoax” and the huge press that generated. i think that the viewcounts which lonelygirl15 enjoyed in the summer-fall of 2006 totally skewed people’s expectations for viewership of a “successful” series. (Yes, i know series can be “successful “on artistic grounds, but I think the article is referring mostly to sustainable profitable webseries.) so after lonelygirl15, many advertisers and creators were sold on expectations that couldn’t be delivered. but lonelygirl15 also seemed to trigger an explosion of webseries that may not have existed otherwise.

    all in all, i think dr. horrible was a good thing for web video for raising awareness, but the road to success is still mostly rocky and uncharted.

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