In the independent web series world, success can be tough to define. Sure, there are bootstrapping shows that are undeniably winners, but for every Guild there’s the series that may have never reached mainstream success, but helped its creator land a more prominent gig, or led to a merchandising deal or adaptation into another medium.
For example, The Guild started out as independent production, completed with the help of crowdsourced funds before making a deal with Microsoft for distribution. But it encompasses every element of web series success — it was picked up by a major distributor, has lead to spinoff projects in other formats like comic books, and helped those involved find other projects — not just Felicia Day, but also Sandeep Parikh and Jeff Lewis.
What other shows represent success of some sort in this space? Below is a list representing some of the best examples out there for independent creators. The three parameters for success we’re using here: The series was picked up by a major distributor, has made real money through independent distribution, and/or has led to a deal for those involved to do larger projects.
Undoubtedly, there are some shows I’m overlooking here. But that’s because there have been many big wins in the space over the past few years.
lonelygirl15: Produced quasi-independently (with some support from the Creative Artists Agency), this series blossomed into long-running web serial. Subsequently, the production team has evolved into new media studio that partners with brands and celebrities to fuel web content.
Sanctuary: Produced independently as a web series, picked up by Sci Fi Channel (before it was SyFy) and adapted into a television series, now in its third season.
The Burg: Produced independently by Kathleen Grace and Thom Woodley, who then got the opportunity to create The All-For-Nots, an original series for Vuguru. Grace went on to work for Next New Networks; following the Google acquisition, she is now Head of Creator Outreach for YouTube.
Dorm Life: Produced independently, got major sponsorship in Season 2 from Carl’s Jr.
Old Jews Telling Jokes: Produced by Jetpack Media, breaks even on production but published a book compilation last fall.
Riese: Produced independently as a web series, now running on syfy.com domestically and on other sites internationally.
The Mercury Men: Produced independently as a web series (never distributed), picked up by SyFy for distribution.
Universal Dead: Produced independently, acquired by Unconventional Films for adaptation into a 3-D feature.
Mortal Kombat: Produced independently as a short film, picked up by Warner Bros. for a web-distributed series running on Machinima.com.
There are plenty of other examples, and if there are glaring ones, the comments are an excellent place to share them. The key thing is this: Success is often dependent on what you hope to achieve — knowing that and planning for it is half the battle.
Thanks to Cyndy, Modelmotion, Mathieas, Jason, Rebecca and the others who chimed in with their suggestions of shows for this list!