The quintessential TV experience used to be centered around the television set, but now the Internet offers a more convenient way to catch up with your favorite shows. Platforms like HBOGO, Hulu and Netflix have led to a larger transformation, where some studio shows are developed entirely for the web, altering not just the dynamic of the way we watch, but of the television business itself.
Netflix and YouTube are pioneers in this new age. Netflix launched its 13-hour drama “House of Cards,” based on the British novel and TV series of the same name, starring Kevin Spacey. All 13 episodes were debuted at once for subscribers, letting them watch the show on their own time. That this drama attracted talent like Spacey and executive producer David Fincher (“The Social Network”), who also directed the first two episodes of the series, speaks to the changing scene of media outlets. Netflix is also bringing back “Arrested Development” on May 26, with new half-hour episodes that will be immediately available for streaming. Each episode will focus on one character, which creator Mitchell Hurwitz thinks will attract new viewers as well as old. There will also be nudity, which wouldn’t have been possible on prime time television.
Comedian Ricky Gervais will air his new show “Derek” on Netflix, about a selfless caretaker in an elderly home who is ostracized for his naivete, social awkwardness and lack of intelligence.
“Netflix is the future,” Gervais said in a statement. “TV habits have already changed drastically over the last 10 years and this is the next phase. People want their favorite shows on demand whether they are homegrown or not … This deal gave me the freedom and the huge potential viewers of the Internet but the production values of film and TV.”
With big stars making the move to syndicated web series, the future of television may look grim. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos doesn’t see Netflix as something that will destroy TV but sees it as a way to “help TV evolve.”
Some network executives use YouTube’s ad-supported “premium content channels” to distribute content. Comedians Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Reggie Watts, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim recently announced their new channel “Jash,” which will have comedy routines and short films. The No. 1 channel for scripted drama on YouTube is “WIGS,” which has an original series, short films and documentaries all with female leads.
Platforms outside Netflix and YouTube have also been successful. Lisa Kudrow’s (“Friends”) web series “Web Therapy,” about a therapist with little patience, has attracted a large following as well as huge talent by the likes of Meryl Streep and Victor Garber (“Alias”). Now in its third season, the show has become so popular that it was picked up by Showtime in July 2012, where it has aired episodes from the first two seasons. The third season will also run on the Lexus-sponsored L/Studio broadband channel. Another success has been “Burning Love.” Parodying “The Bachelor,” Ken Marino (“Wanderlust”) plays Mark Orlando, a fireman searching for the perfect woman. Popular actresses including Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) and Malin Ackerman (“Watchmen”) play his various love interests.
For some shows in danger of extinction, the Internet has been their savior. Cult-hit “Community” has online-exclusive videos following Joel McHale’s (“The Soup”) Jeff Winger. The NBC series launched the “Community Webisodes” to provide fans with additional content. The Internet is also responsible for the continued production of popular soap operas including “All my Children” and “One Life to Live.” It is clear that Internet-based series are becoming increasingly relevant and may even suggest a trend towards Internet viewing over television viewing. However, it could also mean that loyal fans of web-shows will get to see their favorite program air on a bigger screen.