There are people who will stop and stare at a beautifully made car the same way that dog people fawn over a passing puppy and jerks pause at the sight of a young lady in Spandex. I am not any of those people. I am, however, one of those people who notices when posters and billboards for a web series start popping up around town, which lead me in this case to Reinvent the Wheels. Sponsored by Scion, this six-episode series follows three contestants (referred to as “creatives”) who are partnered with auto shops to help them create their dream cars.
Conceptually, there’s a lot that doesn’t really work here. After all, the joy of a show like Project Runway (to which Reinvent the Wheels compares itself) is that those competing have trained hard in their chosen professions, and you know that each week, you’ll get a glimpse into talented people executing their craft under extreme circumstances.
However, the “creatives” who pitched their ideas in the hopes of winning $30,000 and a brand-new car were comprised of two DJs, two filmmakers, a make-up artist and a pastry chef. Not only do these professions have nothing to do with the automotive industry, they don’t even have anything to do with design (the one possible exception being the make-up artist). Frankly, the idea invokes memories of that Simpsons episode where Homer’s long-lost half-brother gives him a chance to design a car and Homer designs the worst car in the history of the universe. I wonder what real automotive designers, especially those currently looking for work thanks to the collapse of the American auto industry, think when they watch this.
Of course, the point is that the cars being proposed by the creatives aren’t meant for popular consumption — they’re meant to reflect “their personal vision” (as well as assist in their careers). And they’re not building the cars all by themselves: Each creative selected to create their dream-mobile is paired with a “builder” who represents a well-respected custom auto shop. The bulk of the show’s tension, based on the second episode, seems likely to come from the relationship between the creatives and builders, as the builders do have some veto power over the stupider ideas.
So I suppose that there’s some fun to the fish-out-of-water element. Plus, while on a production level the show doesn’t reinvent any of competitive reality’s trappings, it does execute them perfectly — talking head interviews, blathering host, dramatic music — and the approximately 10-minute episodes were nicely paced, never feeling overly padded.
However, the show’s inclusion of outsiders to the car world feels like an attempt to appeal to non-car nuts, which is a big misstep if you ask me, at least when you consider the success of car-focused shows like Top Gear. Targeting a niche audience never hurt anyone online.
One final note. Each episode of Reinvent the Wheel begins not with a welcoming theme song, but something I don’t believe I have EVER seen before on a web series: A five-second copyright notice. “The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright, including infringement without monetary gain is investigated by the FBI and punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.”
Seriously, dudes, you are not a VHS copy of The Little Mermaid that cost my parents $20 in 1990; you’re branded content for the web. It’s the in-show partnerships that are making you money, not whatever banner ads you have running on the site. And thus, eyeballs are eyeballs, and so making a huge deal about copyright infringement on a show you don’t even know people are going to watch? SERIOUSLY?
Related GigaOM Pro content (subscription required): Fact or Fiction: Where Is Branded Online Video Going?