A new era in TV ushered in by mini-Satan? Really?
In a little under a week, the new television season is going to begin. DVR or no DVR I know my wife and I are going to be curled up on the couch for the season debut of Heroes, last season’s only new “Holy crap did you see that?” or “Dude if you spoil the episode for me I will punch you so hard in the balls your testes will pop out of your nostrils” landmark show. I’m up on the air about three or four other shows, and with the demise of the critically lauded/viewer challenged “Veronica Mars” there’s not too much on the networks that I’m too excited for.
What does have my interest piqued is the recent announcement that Ruport Murdoch is hiring top creative talent to expand MyspaceTV’s offerings. Murdoch has recently inked a deal with Marshall Herkovitz and Edward Zwick, creators of “thirtysomething and My So Called Life for an elven 8-minute myspaceTV exclusive episodes of “Quarterlife” beginning November 11. If the show is a success, the creators plan on then moving future episodes to their own site.
And yes I before you fill my mail box with hate and vitriol I am fully aware that Murdoch and Dick Cheney play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” every Monday morning to see who gets to glue on devil horns for the week and steal candy from little kids while letting it slip that neither Santa nor the Tooth Fairy are real. For the record, Dick always chooses Rock, though Murdoch has been slow to catch on. For the sake of argument let’s put the fact that he slathers abandoned kittens in butter and eats them whole aside for a while. Let’s think about the exciting possibilities this could open up for creator-driven “television” content.
We all have that show we feel got “screwed”. Every season passionate fans and critics rally around a program they feel isn’t getting a fair push from the network, taking extreme measures to keep the show on the air. Last season, desperate fans, sensing their beloved Veronica Mars was on the chopping block, sent CW Network head honchos so many Mars Bars that the country ran out. Sadly, especially for those that may or may not be tempted to push a small dimwitted child in front of a moving vehicle on the lovely Kristen Bell’s say-so, the gambit failed. Jericho fans were more successful in pelting CBS bureaucrats with nuts, and the show was renewed after the CSI: Des Moines pilot didn’t test quite as well as originally hoped, leaving critics, television viewers and Skeet Ulrich’s mom left to rub their chins and say, “Wait, Skeet Ulrich still has a job? In television? Really?” Fans of the brilliant Joss Whedon “Cowboys in Space” Firefly bought so many DVD’s and raised such a ruckus that Universal gave Joss a pile of many and told him to make a movie. Unfortunately, those same fans, who labelled themselves “Browncoats”, badgered so many people to see the (pretty brilliant) film Serenity that the general population, and even worse, sci-fi nuts who eat this stuff up skipped it out of spite, and back into obscurity and DVD bargain bins it went.
TV’s driven by that magic “18 to 49” demographic. If the numbers fit, you can show an hours worth of pedophiles looking uncomfortable in front of the camera. Seriously, Deal or No Deal is a huge hit! Execs don’t care about things like characters, story, human emotion or plot unless it brings in the bucks. So even a show with a moderate following of five to six million can find itself gone before it even has the chance to find its legs and building an audience. The days of letting a show develop are sadly long gone.
But what if the moderately sized fan based pooled their money together and said, “Make us our show”? The “Quarterlife” deal is about $400K per episode, and unless my math is way off, a ten episode season at forty minutes an episode would translate into two million each episode. Granted, that’s one person with an assload of money paying for it. But how hard would it be to take this concept to the masses? If Rob Thomas posted on his site that he’d create ten episodes web episodes of Veronica Mars to wrap up any lingering story lines if two million people sent in $25 via paypal do you think people would jump on it? How much could Joss Whedon charge for more Firefly or Angel(personally I believe half of Bones audience just pretends that David Boreanez is shooting an Angel, that has covered himself in sunscreen so as to not burst into flames when walking around in daylight. It worked in Blade)? Oh, and keep in mind that this would free creators up to make a show free from all studio interference, letting their vision stay true to their own designs. Plus there wouldn’t be the hassle of extended breaks come December and early spring, which ends up costing some shows a huge chunk of their original audience when they can’t remember when its back on, there’s be no preempting for sporting events and few to no commercials. Do you think that product placement might work with this model once you sort through the demographics of who is sending the donations? If the creator can’t raise the needed funds in a certain amount of time, then the money would either be refunded back or donated to a previously agreed upon charity. Think the Jimmy Fund would except a few hundred grand or that most people would bitch about seeing their money go towards that?
This would be awesome for creators that have smaller, more personally involved projects that might not be right for the big screen but wouldn’t sustain itself for multiple seasons and story arcs. At this point creators are a brand name. When people tune into a Sorkin show, they know they’re getting a talkfest where every character is essentially a mouthpiece for the creator. Fans would follow Joss Whedon over a cliff. This past summer, every movie site talked about the “Judd Apatow Comedy Machine” after he continued his string of low-budget, huge box office hits with the awesome Knocked Up and Superbad. This could work!
Don’t like to gather around the LCD screen to watch your favorite shows? Fine. There’s only a million devices like Apple TV, media centers and the Xbox 360 that will stream DVD or even HDTV quality to your living room television. Ironically enough, Murdoch’s gamble with “Quarterlife” could provide a nail in the coffin of a television medium that is constantly bombarding us with crap, and could spark a whole new revolution in how we get our entertainment media.
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