Oh boy, a web series that’s set behind the scenes at a production company! And it’s documentary-style, like The Office! And it features a celebrity! And it’s branded entertainment! Seriously, is there any box on the “web series cliches” form that KatalystHQ doesn’t check off?
OK, to be fair, it seems like the concept for KatalystHQ didn’t start off as a “hey, guys, let’s try to rip off College Humor and Black20!” effort. Instead, the show, featuring the employees of the Ashton Kutcher-founded social media company, seems to have evolved fairly organically out of real, unscripted behind-the-scenes videos that were posted to Facebook, starting in 2008.
And there’s some fairly charming content to be found in those early installments (provided you can find them — there’s currently no official site for KatalystHQ beyond its Facebook presence, so you either have to install a Facebook application or dig into the company’s account). The videos reveal a laid-back group of employees having fun and being themselves, only every once in awhile striving too hard for a joke — Kutcher makes occasional appearances, and while those featured don’t exactly have star power, it’s an engaging and likable crew, reacting to earthquakes and playing Wii.
However, last February, Katalyst began a formalized version of the show with a much more structured format and heavy inclusion of sponsorship deals. And while partnering with Slide to distribute season 2 put the show on Blip and YouTube, it didn’t necessarily put the comedy in it — KatalystHQ: Vegas, for example, is like a half-baked episode of Punk’d (also produced by Kutcher). And yesterday evening, Kutcher hosted a live episode of Katalyst HQ via Ustream — which featured a fair amount of pre-recorded material on top of some awkward improvisation with the staff, most of it feeling staged and phony. The reality’s been lost, is pretty much the problem, and the videos play like just another web series about working in an office, which we really didn’t need.
However, that Slide partnership has paid off, as the series, according to Adweek Media, had reached over 9 million unique users by Sept. 24. And this isn’t even the company’s main gig; even when it makes a TV show that gets canceled, it figures out something to do with it.
That said, I stand by my wish that the show was as entertaining as those early videos; people are always much funnier when they’re not trying to be funny.