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Web TV: Boomer Creators Discuss Web Series

Web TV: Boomer Creators Discuss Web Series
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BY STEPHANIE SCHROEDER

Traditional media met new media and web series, initially called Web TV, found their place through innovators of the form. When the Writers Guild of America stopped television production in late 2008 and people in “the biz” found new outlets in which to produce and promote their work. Blip.tv was an early supporter and streamer of webisodes. That platform was soon eclipsed by YouTube and has lost so much ground that Blip is shutting down in August. Meanwhile, web series are booming in 2015!

Susan Miller, a boomer playwright with productions at the Public Theatre, The Mark Taper Forum, Second Stage, The Humana Festival, who has also written for TV and film (as a Consulting Producer/Writer on Showtime’s “The L Word” and ABC’s “Thirtysomething”), was a pioneer in the web series genre.

Anyone But Me at the 2nd annual Streamy Awards. R-L: Susan Miller, Nicole Pacent, Best Actress Winner Rachael Hip-Flores & Tina Cesa Ward (via Facebook)]

Anyone But Me at the 2nd annual Streamy Awards. R-L: Susan Miller, Nicole Pacent, Best Actress Winner Rachael Hip-Flores & Tina Cesa Ward (via Facebook)]

She says, “My creative partner, Tina Cesa Ward, and I launched the first episode of our drama series Anyone But Me in December, 2008, after spending months writing, prepping and finding our terrific cast. It was new territory for me, the aspect of producing and owning the show and being totally responsible for making it happen.”

Blip TV was the initial distributor of the wildly popular scripted web series, described as “Introducing a new generation – gay, straight, and ethnically diverse – coming of age in a post 9/11 world, searching for love and belonging as they confront their identities and ride the waves of sexual awakening.”

ABM, as the series came to be affectionately known worldwide, was a success with audiences, but could not, ultimately, sustain itself financially.

 “Anyone But Me” (via Facebook)

“Anyone But Me” (via Facebook)

“We were really too early in the whole web genre for investors to take a risk, but we did get acclaim. Tina and I received the first Writers Guild of American Award ever given to original New Media,” says Miller. “We were nominated for Webbys, Streamys, and became sought after as speakers on new media panels. And it was one of the most rewarding experiences in my artistic life.”

Web series, in 2008 were pretty scarce and those that were professionally written, acted and produced were popular.

“The first day we aired, we got 500 views, which we were pretty happy about in 2008,” says Miller. “Today we have about 40 million views worldwide. Our press was amazingly positive, and it helped us win fans quickly. People appreciated the polish and professionalism of our production, but mostly they fell in love with the characters and the stories of their relationships. We got tons of followers in response to an early shout out from Kate Clinton and the lesbian press, like Autostraddle, After Ellen, She Wired, and Curve, among others. We also became YouTube and Hulu Partners, which boosted our status. I learned the art of schmoozing, which got us features in Fast Company, and the online journal, TubeFilter. But our main interest has always been the fans. They wrote beautiful, touching emails and really showed us the love. There were touching, if not painful letters from people who felt alone but for our show. And those who said they wished our show had been around when they were young.”

Joe Amiel, 78, is a lawyer who worked in the motion picture industry, a writer who has published a number of novels and written some screenplays, and was involved in making some independent movies.

Joseph Amiel (via Facebook)

Joseph Amiel (via Facebook)

He says he got involved in Web TV when he “…decided to create a comedy web series and raised some money and invested some of my own. Everything was done on a shoestring, but it looked good on screen. I wrote, directed and produced it. I also acted in it—anything to save money.”

The show, Ain’t That Life, was short-lived: “Because I couldn’t monetize it, as we say. I couldn’t develop a sufficient audience and online advertising income to pay for additional episodes although a good deal of time and money was invested in marketing.”

“Ain't that Life” (via Facebook)

“Ain’t that Life” (via Facebook)

Miller went on to create Bestsellers, a branded webseries.

“Based on my work on ABM, I was hired to create a series for a company that helped career women find jobs. So, I came up with the idea of putting multigenerational women together in a Book Club. Not too much reading, but plenty of fun. They were very happy with how it turned out, as was I,” says Miller. “I was actually promised that we would do a second season. The response was overwhelmingly positive from the sponsors, but there was some shuffling in the company having nothing to do with our series, which ultimately affected their agenda and the life of our show. I still own it, but without financial backing, I didn’t have the resources to keep it going. The cast was wonderful. They are always asking how we could make it again.”

“By now I own the right to publish all my novels unencumbered by the old publishing agreements. I decided that the new online publishing technology—Kindles, Nooks and the like—provided an opportunity to put my work before a new and enhanced audience,” says Amiel, who publicizes his work via Twitter. He doesn’t have any present plans to return to the web series format.

“What I learned was that a scripted or even a non-scripted web series usually attracts an audience because of either a famous name at the heart of the show, like Jerry Seinfeld or a niche audience, and it can be a very large niche, where the audience feels that they are being personally spoken to as, say, black men or gay women or teenage girls or nerds seeking dates. The shows that catch on because some unknown person is doing something quirky are a phenomenon you can’t catch in a bottle and, to be truthful, I’m not interested in. I’m a writer. I have a compulsion to tell stories. I’m currently writing a new novel with an unusual, if not quirky, science fiction theme. If it goes well, it could be the first in a series. If it doesn’t, it won’t cost me more than the price of the electricity that powers my computer, a not insignificant consideration.”

Miller, who is currently working on a new play says, “I would love to do another webseries.”

Addendum: Anyone But Me will, excitingly, return with some added “lost episodes” debuting in September. See more about that here.

 

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