Can EQAL Make CBS’ Harper’s Island a Hit Online?

The partnership between EQAL and CBS is starting to bear fruit, as the two media companies announced their new upcoming multi-platform “social show,” Harper’s Island. From the press release:

HARPER’S ISLAND is about a group of family and friends who travel to a secluded island for a destination wedding. They’ve come to laugh… to love… and, though they don’t know it… to die. As the wedding festivities begin, friendships are tested and secrets exposed as a murderer claims victims, one by one, transforming the wedding week of fun and celebration into a terrifying struggle for survival. In every episode, someone is killed and every person is a suspect, from the wedding party to the island locals. By the end of the 13 episodes, all questions will be answered, the killer will be revealed and only a few will survive.

Dunh-Dunh-DUNH!

CBS is using EQAL’s technology and video experience (lonelygirl15, KateModern) to develop the Harper’s Globe web site that will feature original online episodes that will intertwine with the TV component. The online part of the show will debut on March 18, weeks before the show debuts on TV on April 9, and the old and newteevee shows will coexist throughout the show’s weekly run, which will conclude on July 2.

Now that EQAL (and by extension, new media) has a seat at the table, it has to prove its worth. EQAL Co-founder and President Greg Goodfried was on our transmedia panel at NewTeeVee Live, where he and all the speakers refused to talk about transmedia success metrics or define what those metrics should even be. Defining your own success when it’s just a girl with a webcam is one thing, but when you’ve got a big media company footing the bill — they’re going to want tangible results.

Interestingly, one of the show’s executive producers is Jon Turtletaub, formerly of Jericho — a TV show that cultivated a rabid online following. Combined with the talents of the EQAL crew, Harper’s Island could wind up being a very interesting experiment. But there’s a difference between creating a groundswell organically and trying to manufacture one from the outset.

The pains to which EQAL and CBS are going to promote this as a “social show” (the phrase appears eight times in the press release) makes it feel like they are trying too hard. This manufactured feeling is reinforced when EQAL uses marketingspeak like “rich set” and “paradigm” to define a social show as:

[P]resented on a website that incorporates a rich set of social networking features, and the narrative extends beyond the videos and into character profile pages, text blogs, photo albums, live text and video chats, and even into the real world. Fans of social shows are active participants, not simply passive viewers, and the medium is about a dialogue between the community and the show, unlike the one-way “broadcast” paradigm seen in traditional entertainment mediums like TV and film.

To its credit, EQAL found success with LG15 by extending the experience into the real world through ARGs and even including fans in actual episodes. So presumably CBS is hoping EQAL can incorporate those elements to deliver the same type of buzz and following LG15 developed.

CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith has been secretive about his plans for EQAL, but he did tell us last year that he wanted to include EQAL at the script level when it comes to creating online extensions of TV programming. Looks like he made good on the promise as EQAL has been collaborating on the show since last spring.

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