What brings many people to web video content is the speed with which they can see their ideas come into being. The slacker comedy Downers Grove, which premiered today on TheWB.com as part of a major site redesign and content launch, does not fall into that paradigm.
Created by Dave Horwitz, Michael Blaiklock, Justin Becker, and Elisha Yaffe (otherwise known as Sorry, Dad Productions) for Warner Bros. Studio 2.0, the first three episodes of Downers Grove were shot in November 2007. The remaining six were shot in April 2008, and post was completed later that summer, with a total budget of $50,000 (minus producer fees). The results, in this reviewer’s opinion, are tight, funny and well-written. But then the waiting began.
According to the Sorry, Dad team, with whom I spoke via phone, there were a number of reasons behind the delays. “[TheWB]’s strategy changed over time — at first they were going to just put things up without sponsors, but changed gears when a lot of people did. Then there was not wanting to release a lot of shows at once, and they had shows by bigger name folks who took priority over us.” (I reached out to TheWB for comment, but am still waiting on a response.)
Along the way, there were other difficulties that led the team to think they might be cursed: Three hard drives died in the ensuing years, and they also ran into some music clearance issues, especially with the theme song. Michael Angelakos, a friend of the production team, created the catchy electro-pop diddy, but things got complicated when Angelakos’s band, a little group called Passion Pit, blew up in the time between the show’s production and its launch. While initially the band’s representation wanted more money for the music, Angelakos generously gave them the theme song for a very small rate while also signing away any future rights to the tune.
That didn’t get the show up any faster, though, and the team eventually reached the point where they didn’t believe the show would ever actually get online. However, despite the delays, they remained positive about the experience — especially since they were still able to show it privately to interested parties at other companies. “We were able to use this as a door-opening device for us as a group,” Yaffe said, “And people liked that they were seeing something under wraps at The WB.”
As a result, Sorry, Dad has kept producing web content — in fact, when they were told last Friday that Grove would finally be put online, they were at that moment finishing up their first day of shooting on an untitled web series project for Fremantle Media/Atomic Wedgie TV (the pitch: “Larry Sanders meets Hannah Montana”).
Also, Yaffe is currently going out on meetings to discuss developing Remember When, which he co-created with Curt Neill, as a potential TV series.
To Yaffe, “There are two types of web content developers. Some are solely about making web content for the web, but there’s another side to that of creating content that might work for both web and TV.” For Remember When specifically, “We want to feel out the TV track — it’s very hard to sell a TV show, but we kinda want to see it through. Then, if that doesn’t pan out, we’ll play it out on the web. It’s the same principle as everything Sorry, Dad has been up to: Create a unique world that people can see being long form.”
The members of Sorry, Dad would definitely work with TheWB again, speaking highly of the experience they had developing Downers Grove, especially with then-execs Len Goldstein and Nick Hall (who have since moved to Fake Empire and HBO, respectively).
“The process wasn’t as clear-cut as we thought it was going to be,” Horwitz said. “We were all younger and coming to it from the creative side of it. When it didn’t open immediately, that was frustrating, but it’s still just as good as it was two years ago. And none of our jokes or storylines got axed — we got to do what we want.”
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