With all the buzz about Gotham and Venice, and questions about how these shows will be able to sustain themselves, I thought it would be worth writing about some of the ways fans can lend support and help web-based programming become viable.
1. Have high standards: Some people thought my review of Venice was harsh and that I "expected too much." Ridiculous. The very people who created Venice have said, time and again, that they wanted an opportunity to do things differently, have expressive freedom, and present a realistic portrayal of women loving other women. When producing for the web, there is no network censor, no Standards and Practices committee to answer to. If web-based programming isn't going to be any different or better than what's on television, what's the point in watching it? If you can push the envelope, why wouldn't you? I have over 700 television channels to choose from, and a 42" HD screen to watch them from. If I'm going to watch a web-based program for more than a few episodes, there's got to be something new and different in it for me - something I can't get on television.
If we, as viewers, keep our expectations low, there's no incentive for the people producing this programming to strive for excellence. The web will never be taken seriously as a viable, sustainable medium for film and video unless there examples of professional-level productions. By giving any production (whether it be Venice or Gotham or whatever) a free pass to be less than professional in the way it looks, feels and is delivered, fans are basically ensuring that they'll never get anything better, and that the web as a medium, will never really come to fruition. Think about it: if you were a corporate sponsor looking to pour lots of money into a project, would you choose a project where the sound is muffled or the production team can't figure out how to get their own website working?
2. Participate in the Discussion: Crystal Chappell and Martha Byrne are both Twitter users, and they both read their email. Other people producing web-based programming probably are, too. If you like what they're doing, let them know. If you don't like it, let them know. I'm not advising anyone to be rude. Offer creative criticism. Think about it this way: if no one tells Crystal Chappell that the soundtrack to Venice is way too loud, and that it detracts from the action, she may never realize it. Martha Byrne heard complaints about the premiere episode of Gotham being too short and she immediately got online and promised subsequent episodes would be longer. Issues probably won't be addressed unless people mention them. Both Venice and Gotham have forums. Use them. Not to talk about last night's Steeler's game, but to talk to other people who are watching and to provide feedback. ABC, CBS, and NBC are probably never going to ask you what you think about their programming, but producers of original content for the web already are.
3. Check out the Sponsors: Nicole Miller is sponsoring Gotham and Venice has sponsorship from two local businesses (who, I assume, donated space and food to the production of season one.) Click on their links. Maybe even drop them a line to let them know that you checked them out after finding their link on the site of a web program you're following. Corporate sponsors back projects in an effort to drum up their own business. If there's nothing in it for them, they pull their sponsorship.
4. Pimp Away: If not for people pimping their favorite web series on blogs or Facebook or Twitter, I never would have found out about Empire or Ylse or Anyone But Me. Twitter is an incredibly good way to get out a message to lots of people at once. If you like a web series, get the word out and share it. These productions run on almost no budget and can't afford to advertise. Nelson Branco and Roger Newcomb do not have to be the only ones using the power of the internet to promote projects they want to see succeed. You're reading this blog, aren't you?
5. Watch: This may be obvious, but it bears mentioning. Someone, somewhere is keeping track of how many people actually press PLAY. If people like Crystal Chappell and Martha Byrne are going to secure significant financial backing for these projects, they need to demonstrate the ability to attract viewers. Watch the damn shows where it counts. If your friend downloads Venice and sends it to you as a file attachment or burns it on to a disk so you can watch it on your tv? That doesn't count.
To the people who thought I was being a "bitch" for pointing out the myriad of problems with the Venice website, chew on this: lots of people weren't able to watch the premiere on the Venice website. If any of those people watched, instead, by downloading the video clip from Yousendit, those views don't count. People will inevitably start downloading Venice and posting it on their own YouTube pages - just like they did with Guiding Light. Guess what? Watching the show in this way doesn't count, either. If you're not watching on a site officially sanctioned by a web series, your viewership doesn't really count.
6. Subscribe: Ok, wait. No, I haven't subscribed to Venice and, so far, I have no plans to. I really do think they should give viewers more of a chance before forcing them to decide if the show is worth paying for. I also think 9.99 is a little steep for a season, as opposed to a full year. That said, I don't think there's anything unreasonable about asking satisfied viewers to start paying after they've had a significant taste. I had mixed feelings about Venice, but a lot of people adored it. If you truly adore a show, consider paying for it.
Web Series Worth Checking Out - a really short list
Empire - Good, soapy fun. Season one didn't have the greatest writing or acting, but these guys put together a whole season, with a full story arc, on a shoestring budget, with no publicity, and without the benefit of even one known actor. And they really, truly get what soap opera is all about. Chris Douros, who plays Thomas could easily be the next big thing on soaps. Empire boasts one openly gay character, and one character who is on the DL. Roger Newcomb says there are some exciting things in store for season two of this series, with a respected soap director taking the helm, and the possibility of some familiar faces joining the cast. I have high hopes for this dark horse.
Anyone but me - Ah... to be young, beautiful, and in love in New York City! Oh, yeah...and also a lesbian. Season 2 is due any day. If you check it out now, you can breeze through the entire first season just in time for the second. All the fangirls who think Venice broke ground by showing two women kissing, check this series out.
Ylse - And now for something completely different....a bilingual web series about a young, Hispanic Oprah Winfrey wannabe. This is good fun, and it takes chances...like poking fun at a gay priest in episode one, and alluding to the hypocrisy of a church that covers up sexual molestation of children. Give this one a go - it's got a lot of humor, and it's really well directed.