Where Are the Joneses? a Winner

Thirty-six episodes into its run, Where are the Joneses? from comedian Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow productions is a fantastic example of what can be done with the serial format with online shows.

The premise is fairly simple — the rather dotty Dawn discovers her biological father was a sperm donor, steals the list of other children sired by him, and goes off in search of her 27 brothers and sisters. Hilarity ensues, especially after picking up her somewhat daft brother Ian who’s strangely attached to a globe and a Bisto tin.

It’s also an experiment in interactivity, with a wiki where the audience can suggest scenarios, sketches and plot developments, which the writers use to update the script. Though it’s certainly no place for those who prefer to avoid spoilers to hang out — though, of course, future episodes could be changed at the last minute, so the story will still hold plenty of surprises.

The individual characters post pictures and messages to the show’s blog, Flickr, and Twitter accounts, making the fictional Joneses more web savvy than a lot of real people. There’s even a widget to put on your own blog page if you like.

Each episode is between one to five minutes, and is being distributed primarily through YouTube. Interestingly enough, the show is released under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license, meaning that there’s nothing stopping fans from re-using footage and ideas from the site for their own project.

The show’s professional writers, crew and actors, are being paid by Ford as a marketing effort, but other than Dawn’s awfully purple car, there’s no overt messaging besides a sponsorship banner on the site. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Ian’s love for a particular sports drink isn’t also a product placement. But the advertising messaging, like the British humor, is subtle.

What all of this activity isn’t doing yet is driving views — the episodes are only racking up view counts in the hundreds so far. Though as people find it, I’m sure they’ll make their way back to the first episode and watch straight through like I did. Because it really is excellent, and quite addictive.