Last week I spoke with creators of Break a Leg (Tilzy.TV page), the internet sitcom about the making of a television sitcom created by San Fransico-based, Ukrainian-born brothers Vlad and Yuri Baranovsky. For those of you unfamiliar with the offbeat show that today released the premiere of its much anticipated third episode, here’s the scoop…
David Penn is going to die…we think.
After the mysteriously untimely demise of his predecessor, the hapless television writer is supposed to fill the shoes of the late creator of Swamblers – a cleverly-named TV show combining the best of the Old West, a swinging lifestyle, and gambling – and create a Hollywood hit out of his very own, Groommates – the also cleverly-named TV show about three ex-grooms living with their two ex-wives.
Only David is probably going to be shot, “in the storage room, with a gun to his head, and the sounds of a fake laugh track in his ears” and this isn’t your normal Hollywood…
It’s a dark, absurdist and quirky interpretation of the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, where the Child Actor’s Guild lives in the sewers, the network head ominously instructs his director and producer through a speakerphone as if he were a slightly mad Charlie and they were his submissive Angels, the actors have eccentricities like “height disorders” and “scale phobias,” everyone has an affinity for Bluetooth headsets and voice activation, the conversations are accented with sound machines that are used like real-world emoticons, and the PR firms will murder your mother for some good press. (On second thought, maybe it’s not so absurd…but I wouldn’t know. I’m a New Yorker.)
This much we know from the first two episodes of Break a Leg. So what’s in store for the just released episode three? Over a landline, Vlad and Yuri shared a bit of what’s to come.
There’ll be at least one special celebrity guest star and, “things will get a little more strange as times goes on.”
In a show already laden with whimsically comical premises, characters, and situations, the notion that things could get stranger is, to say the very least, intriguing.
The series found its beginnings while the brothers Baranovsky were wrapping production on a feature film in mid 2006. The two caught wind of a FX/MySpace contest to promote the then-upcoming season of comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The rules called for entrants to submit a homemade, five-minute comedic short. With a cast and crew already on hand, they quickly shot the first few scenes of a pilot that had been germinating in conversations between Vlad and Yuri for the past couple months. As Yuri explained, “we just had an idea of making a sitcom that was also really dark and to involve actual high stakes where people would die, all comedically of course…we wanted to play with Hollywood and make up our own crazy world.”
The prize was $50,000 and chance to pitch a show to cable network FX. They didn’t win.
“Yeah, people actually wrote in angry letters that we didn’t get selected,” Vlad noted and Yuri echoed, but it was because of this unexpected yet fervent fanfare that they both decided to continue the show anyway, independently, and on the web.
Since then, the series has found a cult following, with its awkward showbiz hijinks and comedic themes likened to old TV hits The Office and Arrested Development. Yuri says the comparison is apt, but just on a base level:
“We love both shows, and it’s obvious that we’ve been inspired by them, but I think we’re also trying to take it in a slightly different direction. To me it’s just the style that we’ve taken as much as Friends is like Frasier is like Seinfeld in a general standard sitcom style. We just went with another style, which is more like The Office and Arrested Development, but now we’re trying to move it in a different direction. We want more adventure in ours.”
The move seems like a good choice. In early August, web video production house For Your Imagination brought Break a Leg on board to build out the show’s new website, and handle distribution. Since the partnership, the show has reportedly seen its viewership quadruple and it just wrangled its first ever sponsor. HBO and AOL’s joint web series, The Smart Show will run overly ads on Break a Leg‘s blip.tv player through November.
Unlike David Penn’s precarious future, things seem to bode well for Yuri and Vlad. The end-goal is to sell the show to old TV in a big payday, though they’re currently enjoying the freedom, creativity, and fan participation inherent on the web – something they hope to sustain if the series ever gets picked up.
Catch a new installment of episode three for the next few Mondays at www.breakaleg.tv and say you were there before the Baranovsky’s went big time.