Friday, March 8, 2013

Webisodes capture new side of TV

Shows online demonstrate creativity and gain millions of views

by Rachel Diebel, A&E Writer
In a world of instant gratification with text messages and the Internet, sitting through a 45-minute episode of TV can seem like too much of a commitment for some people.

Luckily some hip, enterprising members of the entertainment business have found a way to use society’s shortened attention span to their advantage by creating web shows.

Getting a show made in the traditional television world is extremely difficult. If you make it through the pitch and the pilot, there’s no guarantee that your show will be picked up.

Even then, many shows are cancelled too quickly to even gain a fanbase.

Web shows are a way around that for content creators and can be a delightful surprise for consumers.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s most popular novel, "Pride and Prejudice."

It is one of the most re-made pieces of literature ever, spawning parodies such as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and mystery sequels like "Death Comes to Pemberly." Naturally, it also has a web show adaptation.

"The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" spins the original narrative on its head in many ways.

First of all, the show is modernized. Lizzie — played by Ashley Clements — is studying mass communications in grad school and started a YouTube channel as part of a class project.

The show smoothly adapts all of the novel’s major plot points, turning a runaway tryst into a sex tape disaster and the original story’s rich, brooding Darcy into the CEO of a successful company.
It also strives to represent racial diversity, casting black people and Asians in pivotal roles.

The show’s real innovation though, lies in its level of online interaction.

All of the characters have Twitter and Tumblr accounts and use both platforms to have conversations with each other and with fans of the show.

No online show has attempted this kind of transmedia immersion before, and it has paid off for the show’s creators.

"The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" is a web show success story, with more than 160,000 subscribers and 23 million views. It represents the ideal all web show creators aspire to. However, countless smaller shows exist that are just as compelling though not as popular.

"Squaresville" stars Mary Kate Wiles — who also plays Lydia Bennet in "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" — as Zelda, a teenager who feels like her ambitions are too big for the small town she lives in.

Along with her best friend Esther, Zelda tries to banter her way through high school and all of its accompanying highs and lows.

"Squaresville" doesn’t have the notoriety of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" with less than a fifth of the number of subscribers.

However, its wry, nostalgic portrayal of friendship and first love captured the attention of many loyal fans as well as Entertainment Weekly, which recently ranked it as number four on its "Must List."

Big budget television shows will likely never go away entirely, but web shows like "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" and "Squaresville" are demonstrating their rising strength as competitors.

Web show creators are banking on the fact everybody has five minutes to dedicate to watching a YouTube video, and five minutes is all it takes to get hooked by a captivating story you hope will never end.