The series Black Box TV, since its premiere in 2010, has been firmly dedicated to creating quality drama for the YouTube audience. And now, with support from the YouTube made-for-web channels initiative, the show has brought on C.S.I. creator and transmedia proponent Anthony E. Zuiker to relaunch with an ambitious full year of content.
The new iteration, Black Box TV: Silverwood, premiered last Friday, taking the original premise of the Twilight Zone-esque anthology series and adding a new layer of mythology. As creator Tony Valenzuela described it in a phone interview, “We’re setting up The Twilight Zone inside the world of Twin Peaks.” While episodes will remain ostensibly stand-alone, there will be a number of recurring characters (including the actual “Black Box”), some unifying visual elements and an additional level of narrative to connect episodes for repeat viewers.
All this extra storytelling means a major change in length; whereas episodes of the original series ranged from five to seven minutes, installments of the new series now range around 15 minutes — a change in part inspired by YouTube during the Made For Web pitch process, Valenzuela said.
“The audience wanted us to do longer content — they felt like [the episodes] were too short. But we could only do longer stuff if we had sponsorship. So when YouTube said they were looking for longer storytelling, I was like, ‘I’m your man,’” he said.
According to Valenzuela, Zuiker was originally interested in developing Black Box for television, but when Valenzuela got the opportunity to pitch to YouTube, they chose to instead go in that direction. “[YouTube] understands that creators and producers need more autonomy,” Zuiker said. “They’ve provided us a great safe haven of creativity.”
Zuiker is no stranger to the Internet — in addition to working on one of the most popular shows on television, he had previously created the Level 26 “digi-novel” series, which used text, web and video components to bring its serial killer-focused narrative to life. He initially discovered Black Box TV by accident, during a bout of web browsing, and was immediately impressed. “He was doing such great visceral work with a very small crew and inexpensive price,” Zuiker said in a phone interview, “and had such a ferocious understanding about the rhythm of his audience. The voice was very very unique — I really appreciated the genre chances he was taking.”
To the creative process, Valenzuela said, “[Zuiker] brought a lot of character development, plus he has a really high taste level — he always wants to make sure that the second act is as good as the first.”
While Valenzuela and Zuiker are still working out the programming plans, the current approach is to post a new original epsiode every other Saturday, with alternating Saturdays reserved for other types of content, potentially contributed by other directors.
Zuiker and Valenzuela are each “presenting” a certain number of episodes for the channel over the next year — according to Zuiker, he’ll be behind 10-12 episodes, while Valenzuela will produce 35 to 38. Next Saturday is a “true story” tale of the BBTV team visiting Linda Vista Hospital, “the most haunted place in America.”
And of course, it all comes courtesy of YouTube. “They are taking a very aggressive and very ambitious approach in taking care of creators, so we can push the envelope as best we can,” Zuiker said.
“I don’t know if I could have kept making stuff for YouTube if they hadn’t been so supportive since the beginning,” Valenzuela said. “The ability to push a… button and upload to YouTube has changed my life.”