The Recycling of a Web Series: Reborn Showbizzle Learns From Its Mistakes

Hollywood is full of stories about legendary comebacks — Robert Downey Jr. surviving drugs, John Travolta surviving Look Who’s Talking II — so who’s to say that a web series about the industry shouldn’t get a second chance? That’s what Showbizzle has its eye on. The indie web series produced by Charles Rosin (a producer on the original Beverly Hills 90210) relaunched a few weeks ago after falling flat last fall.

How flat did it fall? Steve Bryant, in our initial NewTeeVee Station review on Sept. 26, 2008, gave it two stars, writing that “the site is confusing, the mission statement unclear, and the promise — personal webcam-ish confessions and storytelling that’s ‘different from virtually everything else that you can currently find in the world wide web’ — laughable.” Composed then of individual two-minute monologues relayed to an unseen and unheard aspiring screenwriter named Janey, Showbizzle was more like watching scenes from an acting class than a narrative. And the site was focused on getting people to sign up for a poorly constructed and irrelevant social network, in theory hoping to connect aspiring whatevers in their quest for Hollywood fame and fortune. “Everything was rushed, and we made some tactical errors, we made some technical errors, and by the time we started up we were already in the hole,” Rosin said via phone. “But we were able to evaluate what went wrong, and what we could do better.”

Today, though, the Showbizzle site has a clean look that showcases the series properly, and perhaps thanks to the advice Rosin received from a Silicon Valley consultant — “you either have to be a web series or a social network, not both” — that element of the site has been dramatically toned down, instead focusing on the actual content.

And that content has been dramatically changed. The individual two-minute monologues, originally planned for daily release, have been compiled into weekly 10-minute episodes that are focused on characters with a clear connection to Janey (a connection spelled out in the cards introducing each character). Oh, and Janey actually has a voice now, courtesy of the show’s primary writer and director Lindsey Rosin (Charles’ daughter), which addresses Steve’s complaint from the original review that “there’s no dialogue, which contributes to an overall feeling of falseness. As if the people talking were being interviewed on a late-night promo for a self-help book.” The monologues are now interspersed with comments from Janey — mostly “hmm?” and “really?”, but enough to indicate a human presence on the other side of the camera.

So, how does Showbizzle 2.0 work? As a fan of micro-length episodes, I do miss the old format a little, and while the addition of Janey’s comments is an interesting approach, it’s not well-mixed into the rest of the audio, definitely revealing its roots as additional dialogue recording. But the fact that each character now belongs to a larger narrative, however slight, is a major bonus and ties the series together in a new way. It also emphasizes to audiences that, in Lindsey’s words, “This is a show; this isn’t real; it is scripted,” which hadn’t been clear before.

Also, an interesting bit of recycling: To accommodate the new format, the Rosins had to eliminate several of the filmed monologues from the series. But rather than leave these in the cutting-room bin in Final Cut Pro, they’ve created a new section of the site called Digital Showcase, which serves as a “hey, check out this actor” spotlight, making sure that the performer’s time wasn’t wasted.

It’s a use-all-the-parts-of-the-buffalo approach, one to honestly admire. Because here’s the thing: The Rosins listened to their audiences and their critics, reapproached their concept, and did their best to fix it. So much web video right now is being made by people who don’t really know what they’re doing. It’s rare when someone admits it, and tries to do better.

<I>This show was originally rated by Steve Bryant as two stars.</i>

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