Dallas‘s J.R. gets shot. Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s vampire boyfriend loses his soul. And the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has #darcyday.
Lizzie Bennet, a reinterpretation of Pride and Prejudice created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, updates Jane Austen’s often-adapted classic novel for the social media age: The series, which began as a vlog created by Lizzie (Ashley Clements), modern-day grad student, now spans across at least three YouTube (s GOOG) channels and multiple Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook accounts.
Since April 2012, Lizzie has been uploading video diaries about her mother’s obsession with marital status, her sister Jane’s romantic drama, and William Darcy, the snobby friend of Jane’s crush. The vlog approach has kept Darcy literally out of the frame until this Thursday, when he (Daniel Gordh, whose casting had been kept secret) burst into Lizzie’s office to admit that his “heart has overwhelmed his judgment.”
The episode, “Are you Kidding Me?”, recreated one of Pride and Prejudice‘s most memorable scenes (Darcy’s surprise proposal) and racked up over 100,000 views in its first 24 hours online; its release was surrounded by hundreds of #darcyday Tweets and Tumblr posts from the show’s primarily young female audience, who had “all the feels”:
I have never been this exited about a video before in my life #DarcyDay
— That french girl. ? (@Perriiineee) November 1, 2012
— Kat High (@zoeythekat91) November 3, 2012
— Elly (@elissacameron) November 3, 2012
It was this level of fan engagement that not only made #darcyday a landmark one for the series, but helped it recently secure a deal with DECA for infrastructure and financial support.
“This is something that doesn’t come around that often — it’s high-quality, it’s of the platform, it’s scalable. We just pursued them until they did a deal,” DECA CEO Michael Wayne said via phone. DECA is now a co-owner of the series — as well as future adaptations using the same format. (Jane Austen wrote more than one book, you know.)
“They’re able to take over responsibilities like payroll — we can now focus on the actual show,” Su said via phone.
“What they do is very much in line with what we do — they’re very excited by content that’s made for and watched by women,” Green added. Green, Su and the writing staff retain 100 percent creative control over the show.
Lizzie Bennet‘s roots were relatively humble: Green, one half of the the popular Vlogbrothers team, got the inspiration for the series from his wife, a devout Pride and Prejudice fan who exposed her husband to the multitude of previous adaptations. “I had the idea that it would be cool to convert a piece that was in the public domain into a video blog, but it was just an idea. I didn’t have any way to execute it. I’m a very different kind of content creator,” Green said.
Su, however, had previous experience creating narrative content, including the award-winning series Compulsions. So when Green and Su met for the first time, Green mentioned the idea, and Su became interested — the two of them spent a year developing the concept before the first episode finally made it onto YouTube.
Initial production on Lizzie Bennet was funded out of pocket by Green: A few months into the series’ run, the show got to the point where the ad revenue from one month would pay for the next month of production, but according to Green, his initial investment was not recouped until they signed with DECA.
That investment has paid off: “Are you Kidding Me!” is (as of writing) at almost 200,000 views, but more importantly at almost 6,000 comments; Green said that episodes of the series get more comments than the Vlogbrothers did.
The show’s extensive transmedia components, covering characters and action happening off screen (Darcy has been tweeting off-screen for months), deserves a large portion of the credit for this engagement. “You don’t need to watch every episode or follow all the Twitters, but it adds to the experience. And it creates evangelistic fans, which is fantastic,” Green said.
In addition, the entire cast and crew uses social media to interact with fans, with Su and Green actively discussing the making of the show as it goes, going so far as to calm panicked fans and reblog fan fiction featuring them. “There’s always a fear that [the behind-the-scenes content] will kill the magic — but that’s like saying a rainbow is less beautiful because you understand refraction,” Green said.
The result is packed VidCon panels, over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, and nearly 10 million total views on the main Lizzie Bennet channel.
I’ll be completely honest — the last narrative web series I saw build anything close to this intense a fanbase was The Guild. Lizzie Bennet fans are rewatching, reblogging, GIF-making, meme-generating superfans — the show has a hold on its fans on a level rare not just for a web series, but for media of any kind.