Easy to Assemble Takes Unusual Route to TV.com Exclusive

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There’s hardly a normalized process for making a web series, but I haven’t heard of anything else taking the path of the new IKEA-sponsored show Easy to Assemble. The show, which first came out Monday, was just picked up for a semi-exclusive distribution deal with CBS’ TV.com. Easy to Assemble‘s production was fully paid for by IKEA, but it’s not your typical “branded entertainment” — it’s actually more of a low-budget indie project featuring many familiar Hollywood faces (Jeff Goldblum, Tom Arnold, Justine Bateman, Jane Lynch, Craig Bierko, Kevin Pollack). And the series wasn’t conceived as an IKEA advertisement; it’s based on a former project by its writer star, Illeana Douglas, called Supermarket of the Stars, a short film and not-picked-up pilot. Substitute actor working at grocery store for actor working at Swedish furniture store and you get the idea.

“It’s kind of like a female Curb Your Enthusiasm,” said Easy to Assemble producer Tom Bannister, founder of its production and distribution company SXM. “It’s the story Illeana always wanted to tell. You work in Hollywood, live in Hollywood with all these celebrities. It’s the nature of fame. One minute you’re up, one minute you’re down.”

The first episode — a rather trippy six minutes that Bannister described as “confusing” and unlike what’s to come — has garnered more than a quarter million views on YouTube in the last five days, and while that’s not exactly what we’d call an online hit, it’s not bad for a brand-new show. Those views, along with some press buzz (like others, we covered it in advance), brought the show into talks with CBS, Yahoo, AOL, ABC, and Yahoo, said Bannister. Ultimately, TV.com ended up signing a deal for a one-week exclusive on each of the remaining nine episodes of the show’s first season, to be released every Monday as the site’s first original scripted series.

TV.com is not paying a licensing fee, but rather offering promotion to a television-loving audience who Bannister hopes will understand the show’s I Love Lucy jokes and like the show enough to prompt IKEA to pay for a second season. Bannister said it’s worth giving up that window in order to get away for “fighting for exposure on YouTube.” (You can find the series on TV.com here
where it is (sniff) not embeddable and preceded by a pre-roll ad.)

It does sound a bit odd, right? TV.com running what is basically an IKEA ad?

“I don’t think this is advertising,” is Bannister’s explanation. “For branded entertainment to succeed, it has to get away from overly controlled, overly shilling thing.” The ultimate goal for Easy to Assemble, he said, is to make more episodes — but not to get on TV, where the show’s offbeat storytelling might be constrained.

All in all, it’s a bit unusual — but a very interesting experiment.

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