Rant: Rumors of the Death of Web Series Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Break A Leg creator Yuri Baranovsky posted a provoking piece on his blog on Wednesday called Let’s Save the Web Series. It’s a thoughtful look at the current state of web content, one that echoes some recent thoughts from our own Chris Albrecht, but it’s driven by the following sentiment: “It seems to me that we’ve finally dropped the act and now just think that the whole damn genre is failing.”

To be blunt, it sounds like Baranovsky doesn’t get out much. If he did, he’d be in touch with the new generation of web series creators, who are playing with their cameras, trying new things and making new deals. There is so much happening here that, frankly, we can’t cover it all. But heaven help us, we’re trying. Because we are watching the new stuff. And each new great show is another reason not to give up.

Baranovksy looks to us at NewTeeVee, as well as the fine folk at Tubefilter and Tilzy as part of the solution:

As journalists, it’s their job to find the little nuggets of gold — shows that perhaps no one is watching — and not only review them, but champion them… Tim Goodman of the SF Chronicle was a huge supporter of Arrested Development and one of the reasons that helped them continue production. Yes, it’s the SF Chronicle — but I know the guys at Tilzy, Tubefilter and NewTeeVee — all are extremely talented journalists and I think if they tried hard, they could really help propel shows forward.

Championship happens, it’s just that there are so many shows to champion that the praise gets spread thin. The reason why we at NewTeeVee don’t really push shows to “the mass public” is that we’re an industry publication, not a major market newspaper. Even so, shows and creators we’ve written about have found distribution, achieved sponsorships and won awards — and I’ve received emails directly attributing our coverage for those developments. Plus, we don’t give low-quality no-budget series a pat on the head and a pass, instead talking more honestly about the lesser achievers in the hopes that the medium may grow and evolve.

Baranovsky’s complaint seems more to be that he hasn’t HEARD of any new and exciting web series, not that they don’t exist. Yuri, you want 10 quality indie shows, made in the last year, to watch? Here you go: Bumps in the Night, Grass Roots, Coma, Period, Ignite, In the Moment, Love Pop Trash, My Roommate the Cylon, Project Rant, Real Life With Married People, Sandwich of Terror, Scotty Got an Office Job, Speedie Date, The Book of Jer3miah, Zerks’ Log… Oh, I guess that’s more than 10. Whoops.

To be honest, a lot of the series mentioned above will not find a huge audience. That’s because more niche shows have popped up that appeal to specific communities — In the Moment is targeted towards gay audiences, for example, while The Book of Jer3miah was made for Mormons, by Mormons. And that’s one of the brilliant things about the current state of the medium — under-served audiences are finally getting content, and reasonably well-made content, that appeals to them. Added bonus: The hardcore web series community gets to learn more about a subculture that maybe it wouldn’t have otherwise. We don’t feel like this is a bad thing.

And in regards to his hope that new media might become a “farm league” for old media, it’s already happening. Dan Harmon created an NBC sitcom, College Humor got another MTV series, Bo Burnham got scooped up by Judd Apatow…the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that there are also a lot of creators working in new media, like the cited Big Fantastic, who seem pretty damn happy to be creating original web content. For creators excited not by the idea of getting a call from Steven Spielberg, but by being able to tell their own stories on their own terms, the idea of web content being a farm league is even a little insulting.

This would all be much easier if there was a more coherent central web series ratings system. But for the moment much of the potential viewing data remains private and disaggregated, which is a shame as it keeps us from having a community-wide awareness of what everyone really is watching, not just talking about.

Because it honestly sounds like Baranovsky’s fallen into the trap that I’ve heard no shortage of web professionals complain about recently: Many of those working in the space simply aren’t watching a lot of web content anymore, because they’re too busy making it. Thus, they’re not discovering anything new, and forgetting how fast-evolving and frankly awesome this medium can be.

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