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New methods of television

May 7, 2013

If you would like to see a tv show set in this universe, keep reading until the end of the article.

This posting has been building up for awhile in my head now but, an old gaming friend of mine named Drew Bittner who also happens to be a published author forwarded a post on Facebook that kind of set the whole thing in motion.  So, you can blame him for what you are about to read.  There have been a number of new methods for launching tv series that I have run into over the past year.  I’m going to cover them in the order that I encountered them.

The first is Netflix who, via their steaming service, is providing new original content.  Actually, it turns out that what they are really doing is providing exclusive first access to other people’s original content as, according to at least one article I read, Netflix doesn’t own the new material.  This is interesting to me on a couple of levels.  First, I’m really wondering how Netflix can make money off of this model.  Will they get it by increased subscriptions to their streaming service?  This relies on the content owners to not make the new shows more easily available and/or cheaper via some service other than Netflix streaming after the fact.  Anecdotally, I know a number of people who seem to watch shows by either buying them on DVD or borrowing from friends who do so, even a regular set of post-Netflix DVD releases could lose them customers who are willing to wait.  Of course, if you get the discs mailed to you via Netflix, they are still making money off the deal so, maybe it will work.  I guess I’m somewhat skeptical given Netflix questionable business decisions in the past.  The second thing is something I like a lot which is that Netflix makes all of the series available for viewing at once like any of the other tv series they have on their streaming service.  This is pretty ideal as it allows people to take in the content at whatever speed they like.  People like Kevin Bachelder can mainline the show in one sitting if they wish.  I can do my one episode per day routine and, hard core retro enthusiasts can watch one episode per week to simulate a regular broadcast series.  I feel this part of the package is a great idea.

As far as genre content goes, which is what this blog is supposed to be about in the first place, there is a supernatural series called Hemlock Grove and a coming SF series called Sense8.  Like almost everyone else, what I am most looking forward to is the return of Arrested Development.  I’m not a big sitcom guy but, this one works for me.  Diane is more of the sitcom person in our house so, I rely on her guidance to steer me into these types of shows that she thinks I might like, this being one of them.

Another new idea for launching series is provided by Amazon through their Amazon prime service.  This is a service through which you can get streaming content directly from Amazon and now they have started something called Amazon Original series.  Actually, they are just called Amazon original pilots at the moment.  They have pilot episodes for 14 new shows.  Six of them are kid’s shows with the remainder being comedy series.  The biggest draw for this service is undoubtedly the pilot for Zombieland.  I love this movie which was itself originally pitched as a pilot for a tv series.  It’s kind of obvious if you watch it with the various rules of surviving in Zombieland that Columbus comes up with that would have been gradually introduced each episode and, of course, the zombie kill of the week bit.  The cool thing about these is that Amazon has decided to provide access to these pilots for free temporarily.  I checked out a couple of them, one of which was Zombieland and I have to say the show looks like it has some potential but, be warned that they have completely recast, and to a large extent re-written, all of the main characters from the movie.  It would have made more sense to just introduce a bunch of new characters but I guess they stuck with the originals because the audience knows them.

To get back to Amazon’s plan, they are not going to take all of these pilots to series.  In fact, they are going to pick some number, I would guess around four based on what they have said so far, to make into series based upon viewer response.  It will be interesting to see how they choose because, while Zombieland is one of the lower rated pilots, it has more reviews than any other pilot (about four times greater than the second most reviewed pilot at the time of this posting) which indicates a lot more people are watching it.  Given that you are looking for viewers, it will be interesting to see if the number of reviews trumps the overall ratings.  If this ends up being the case, then the kid’s shows are royally screwed as they are an order of magnitude lower in the total number of reviews.  Regardless, it will be interesting to watch how this ultimately plays out.

Finally, is the piece that my friend Drew posted to Facebook that inspired me to write this piece in the first place.  David Gerrold should need no introduction to fans of genre television being the author of one of the most beloved of the original Star Trek episodes, The Trouble with Tribbles.  Someone has started a Kickstarter campaign (if you don’t know what Kickstarter is, check Wikipedia) to produce one or more episodes of a series based upon Gerrold’s Star Wolf series of books.  I really respect this approach a lot.  Taking the series pitch directly to the fans and having them vote with their money as to whether it should shoot or not is the essence of simplicity as well as targetted marketing.  Unfortunately, it also looks to be the least likely to succeed at the moment unless there is a sudden upswing in backers because, at the current rate, there is no way the goal will be reached.

Whether or not any or all of these ideas prove successful, I think it is further proof of Ira Glass’s claim that we are living in a golden age of television at the moment.  Furthermore, anything that opens up the media to bring more opportunities to more artists will only lead to more and better television for all of us.  And hopefully a lot of it will be genre series.

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