Like most people who believe in the power of online video, I thrive on success stories, tales of creators who take a chance on web content and are rewarded for their achievements. Thus, I should be really jazzed about the fact that Childrens Hospital, the Rob Corddry-created comedy web series that premiered on TheWB.com (s WB), got picked up by Adult Swim and officially debuted on Sunday.
And yet — un-jazzed, right here. There are a couple of reasons why:
Limited Time Online = Lack of Engagement
When Childrens Hospital premiered on December 8, 2008, it dropped all ten episodes online at once, then took them down in January 2009 (slightly past than the originally announced offline date of December 31). While at the time of launch there definitely seemed to be value to that kind of artificially induced scarcity, the show dropped off my radar pretty quickly afterwards — and the web community’s as well.
I’m not going to say that if Hospital had been available longer online, it would have stood a chance of beating Dr. Horrible for Best Comedy Series at the 2009 Streamys. But I will say that it might have been a closer race.
Right Now, They’re Reruns
The first two episodes that made up Sunday’s 15 minute Adult Swim premiere, in fact, are pretty much exactly the same as what premiered originally online. No clear signs of re-shoots, slightly different titles, improved color correction. Basically, anyone who watched the original series has five weeks of reruns to look forward to.
The reason I know this as fact is that TheWB.com never took down their press site for Childrens Hospital‘s web premiere (Gmail’s limitless email storage, I love you), and thus I was able to compare the original episodes to what aired on Sunday. And there’s no discernible difference between the two versions (they even make reference to it being the year 2008).
At this stage in the show’s broadcast, the only really new elements are the fake commercials connecting together the two original web episodes. And the first time I watched the commercial for NTSF:SD:SUV, the parody was so over the top I just figured I was seeing an ad for a new Adult Swim series.
Sure, you’re saying, “Liz, it’s been a year and a half since I watched those episodes — if I watched them at all — so what’s so bad about Adult Swim re-airing them?” And you have a point, faithful reader. It’s also important to acknowledge that The WB had enough faith in the project to shoot the original series in broadcast quality for just an eventuality (but that just speaks to another issue I’ll get to in a minute).
New episodes were shot this spring and will eventually be aired, and judging by the tone of Episode 207, which Adult Swim has put online early, they’ll be right in line with the rest of the show. But for anyone who watched the original show, that means waiting five weeks for new content. And…
It’s funny, but these guys have been funnier
At the time of Hospital‘s premiere, mocking Grey’s Anatomy and other doctor shows felt extremely relevant. Today, over a year since Grey’s Izzy had sex with that ghost she only saw because of a brain tumor, thus officially making the show a parody of itself? Not so fresh.
And while Corddry and his cast are top-notch, the show is just a reminder of much funnier performances from all of these players. (The one exception is Malin Akerman, who doesn’t get nearly enough opportunities to play comedy but is regularly hilarious when given the chance).
What it comes down to for me, I suppose, is that Childrens’ Hospital always seemed like it was using the Internet as a stepping stone towards achieving its expected place on television. (The fact that Adult Swim, a Warner Bros-owned property, got it speaks to the kind of inside baseball in play here.) And while using online video as an incubator for television isn’t a bad business model, it also doesn’t come off as a real vote of confidence in the power of web-based entertainment — which is what I do ultimately believe in.
Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Shattering the Fourth Wall To Find Web Audiences