This week’s Emmy nominations include the usual variety of wins (hooray Friday Night Lights!) and disappointments (wherefore art thou Community?). It also included nine nominations for digital content: five nominees for Creative Achievement in Interactive Media and two each for short-format live-action entertainment programs and short-format nonfiction programs.
But looking at these nominees, two things become clear: 1. broadcast and cable television have become increasingly innovative in how they use the web to grow show branding, and 2. independent web production still has a long way to go when it comes to building mainstream awareness.
While last year the nomination and eventual win of Star Wars Uncut gave hope that in the future more indie projects would be considered by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, this year witnesses a return to the tradition of nominating Fringe “webisodes,” the (admittedly excellent and innovative) digital experience for TBS’s Conan and an NBC.com website about Jay Leno’s cars.
But at the same time that web originals are overlooked by awards shows and the digital studios producing them are shuttered, there has been increased movement in another arena — web-to-television adaptations.
Showtime, for example, premiered Lisa Kudrow and Don Roos’s Web Therapy this week, which originated as a web series produced by L Studio. Based on the first episode, Web Therapy has not changed a bit from the original web version — the actors are still filmed web-cam style, and the desktop screenshots still drive changes in camera angles. It also jumps right into the story of unconventional therapist Fiona (Kudrow), who is trying to establish a practice without ever having to leave her desk.
Episodes of the web series would focus on one individual client at a time, and the approach to adapting that for a half-hour format has been a simple one: They’ve kept the one-on-one element of the web series but structured the episode as multiple “sessions” with “clients” (who, in the upcoming season, include Victor Garber, Rashida Jones, Jane Lynch, Steven Weber and Lily Tomlin), strung together to make a full-length episode. There is some effort to create a linear narrative within that framework, but the emphasis remains on exploring the depths of Fiona’s dysfunction over a full narrative.
Another group of folks to make the web-to-TV leap lately are comedy duo Rhett and Link, whose branded series I Love Local Commercials has found its way to IFC as Rhett and Link: Commercial Kings. The title is different, but the premise — two guys traveling around the country to make commercials for local businesses — remains the same; the major change made in bringing the series to television is combining the actual commercials and behind-the-scenes footage into a complete package.
Whereas Local Commercials broke apart the commercials produced by Rhett and Link and the behind-the-scenes elements, with an emphasis on the quasi-facetious commercials for small businesses, Commercial Kings frames each episode around the journey of producing the commercials, following Rhett and Link through development and production and revealing the actual commercials at the end. Conceptually, though, it’s a very clean adaptation, and extremely entertaining.
Neither of these shows are necessarily on next year’s Emmys short list (except, perhaps, for Web Therapy‘s admittedly talented cast). But they’re both examples of high-quality content that didn’t require much work to shift from the web to TV. As the lines continue to blur between the two mediums, projects like this will become more and more important — if only as a reminder for Hollywood to keep its eyes on what’s happening on the Internet.