Ask a Ninja, created by Kent Nichols and Doug Sarine, was one of the very first series NewTeeVee ever covered, way back in December 2006, and since those early, innocent days, the show has hit some impressive highs.
Regular production on Ask A Ninja dropped off about ten months ago, as Nichols predicted would happen back in 2008, but this week, the show returned with daily updates, special guest stars and a new creative partner in web series creator Brett Register. I dropped by the set last week — as the three gentlemen were preparing for Monday’s relaunch — to chat about the show’s return and watch a little filming.
Nichols and Sarine both starred in Register’s video-game-influenced comedy series A Good Knight’s Quest, and were so impressed by his directing that they asked him to join the team. The production framework hands off the directing reins to Register (who will also contribute to the show’s writing at a later date), while Sarine continues to star and Nichols takes a more producer-ish role.
It’s an interplay I saw in action over the course of filming one bit, with Sarine performing, improvising new takes on jokes when Register pushed him to “find something funnier,” and Nichols watching from the side, calling out the occasional suggestion.
Things Register brings to Ask a Ninja are more organization on the editing end (“I’m functionally OCD,” Register said) as well as more exteriors and experimental elements — pushing the show out of its green-screened box.
The show’s return offers a different spin on the Ninja world every day. Mondays will be a dedicated shout-out show featuring produced content that the Ask a Ninja team likes; the first episode, spotlighting The Guild‘s Season 4 finale, features Sandeep Parikh.
Tuesdays will feature a Ninja episode in the classic format, responding to questions asked via YouTube (s goog) comments, Twitter or voicemail. Today’s episode provides a slight deviation, thanks to guest star Alex Albrecht.
Wednesdays will feature “vault” content that hasn’t previously been posted to YouTube, as well as any experimental shorts the team wants to try out, then Thursdays will be a non-Ninja sketch day to “hopefully keep us creatively engaged,” according to Nichols. Fridays will then offer a wrap-up of what’s been going on, in Nichols’s words, “on the YouTubes and the webernets,” with the Ninja discussing the week’s hot virals, as well as featuring a fan from the fan community.
All of this is destined for two YouTube channels: the original Ask a Ninja channel, which will host Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday episodes, and a secondary channel which will host the Monday and Thursday episodes.
“YouTube seems to be the platform right now that not only has social currency of an immense amount of viewers, but is also finally a place where an independent middle-class creator like [Ask a Ninja] can really monetize,” Nichols said. “And you can also take that audience and that somewhat stable income and apply it to merchandising and touring and other good stuff.”
The Tuesday Ask a Ninja “classic” episodes are still being distributed through Castfire (a deal that’s now over four years old — not bad by web video standards), but YouTube is the primary distribution platform for the show. “YouTube’s partner program really pushed us back into production,” Nichols said via email.
A show that’s been out of regular production as long as Ask A Ninja has might have trouble rebuilding its audience, but Nichols estimates that the latent audience for the show is around half a million viewers across all platforms. And some recent promo videos have performed well on the channel, scoring five-figure viewcounts. Nichols hopes to build to a million views a month soon.
“Ask a Ninja was always designed as such a low-overhead show that even adding the daily format, it’s not such a massive thing,” Nichols said. He’s currently bankrolling production, but some integrated sponsorship and ad sales deals are in the works.
“All of the numbers make sense,” he said. “We will be cash-positive very shortly.”
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