On a rainy day in early March, I stopped by the West Hollywood offices of FM78.tv, the original online content production company headed up by Justine Bateman, Jill Kushner, Peter Murrieta, and Alan Sereboff. The company’s first project, The Molls Show, which is written and directed by Molly McAleer and executive produced by FM78, is out now at TheMollsShow.com with the release of their third episode today. They’ve also announced their second project, Candy Inc., which will star Bateman along with comedians Jeff Garlin, Judd Nelson, Buck Henry, Wallace Langham, Beverly D’Angelo, Suzi Nakamura, and Doug Stanhope, with Steve Pink as director.
Going into our meeting, I didn’t know what to expect. It had been several months since we last checked in on the team at FM78. Their website, which I checked back with every so often, declares boldly, “The entire entertainment world is changing. Technological advances and the subsequent dissolution of the customary distribution model have set this sector’s business grid into chaos… this is bad news for Entertainment’s corporate establishment, but very good news for content creators.” It’s so brilliantly radical and forward thinking that I almost couldn’t imagine they actually believed it.
The FM78 team isn’t a group of amateurs with nothing to lose, maxing out their credit cards and trying to break into the entertainment industry; Bateman is a well known actress who famously played Mallory Keaton on Family Ties and more recently has appeared on Desperate Housewives and Arrested Development, Murrieta is an executive producer for Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, Kushner has written and produced for Last Comic Standing and The Ellen DeGeneres Show (for which she won two Emmys), and Sereboff is a writer, most recently co-creating and writing the “Speechless Without Writers” campaign during the writer’s strike, which Bateman co-produced. So what could these old media players know about the web content realm and how could they compete with the likes of Felicia Day, Hayden Black, and Sandeep Parikh, people whose most successful work has been online?
Within a few minutes of talking to the team, my mind was changed. Bateman explained that after the writer’s strike, “we formed this company because we could see that the whole business structure of TV and film was disintegrating and shifting, so we jumped on the lifeboat and sailed away from the Titanic… I personally think it’s the best time since the beginning of film to be in the TV and film business.” Finally, I thought to myself, I’ve found a group of people who came out of old media with years of experience and believe in the power of new media. But could they translate belief into practice?
The Molls Show is a resounding example that they can. As Kushner described McAleer and her show, “We became aware of [Molly] and thought she was fantastic and it was immediately obvious to us that she should have her own show. We’re helping her with her new show. It’s essentially entirely done by her; I mean the girl writes it, is in it, directs it, shoots it and edits it. Each of these episodes are roughly 10 minutes divided up into anywhere from 4 to 7 segments in each episode. [It’s] man on the street stuff, straight blogging, artistic collaborations with friends of hers, and so on. The way we see it with Molls, is that there a lot of people out there that might do bits and pieces of what Molls does, but we’ve yet to see anyone do everything that Molls does, with the voice that Molls has. And she has the respect of the blogging community. That speaks volumes. Those guys make and break trends and can see what’s solid before most.”
Murrieta explained why McAleer’s career is symbolic of the state of entertainment today: “We’re talking about the contest between the old world and the new world. Molly’s also an actress who goes out on auditions and takes classes and takes meetings all the time. And a lot of what the old model was was to take someone who had these very singular talents and to try to fit them into a mold of what a sitcom or drama needs.” But McAleer has made a career out of avoiding being molded. She has, Kushner explained, “blogged for Defamer which is where a lot of people got to know her. She was asked by Funny or Die to be one of their big weeklong guest bloggers which she did. She got voted Top 10: Indie Chicks by AskMen.com. Her own individual blog has been getting anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 hits a month just as her own little project.” Continued Murrieta, “One of the things that got me excited about it when Justine and Jill brought Molls to our attention was how wonderfully ‘her’ she was and how we weren’t even trying to do anything except for say ‘Go continue to be you and let people enjoy it.'”
FM78 has also proven that they can turn that originality and make it bankable; the third episode of The Molls Show, which is out today, is sponsored by the upcoming Palm Pre. In addition to its site, it’s also being distributed on Blip.tv, YouTube, and now KoldCast TV. The company says that other distribution deals are “closing imminently.”
In recognition of what they’ve done so far, FM78.tv will be highlighted at the Digital Content NewFront in their “Ones to Watch” reel, and Bateman will represent FM78.tv at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in June to discuss relationships between creators and sponsors.
With their first production under their belt, FM78 is already working on their next project, the 15-part web series Candy, Inc. written by Bateman, Kushner, and Murrieta, and starring Bateman as lead character CJ Stubbs. Bateman went in detail with me about the new show and her character: “This is her family’s candy company which she has avoided for many many years. She’s called back to the company to work there because her father [played by Buck Henry] is tired of her dubious ways. Much to her absolute horror she discovers that she has sort of a genius gift for running a candy company, and hence her conflict. She fears that her father will force her to stay indefinitely if he learns she actually knows what she’s doing. Jeff Garlin plays the CFO who assumes he’s next in line, and so he’s upset that the heir has suddenly shown up.” Whether the team can take their skill at marketing a personality-driven show like The Molls Show and translate that into marketing a story-driven show remains to be seen, but they’ve definitely shown that they’re up to the challenge.
In the past couple of years we’ve seen a lot of companies jump into original made-for-web projects without an understanding of even the most basic concepts of Web 2.0, and with that has come a lot of failure. The FM78 team is different- all four use Twitter and Tumblr actively, and envision an internet driven lifestyle that even teenagers who follow the cutting edge trends online can’t even imagine. They’ve even teamed up with Streamy-winning creatives behind You Suck at Photoshop, the Big Fat Brain crew (Troy Hitch and Matt Bledsoe), to do some viral spots for the Candy, Inc. launch.
The entire team had insights about everything from the impending death of newspapers to the distant future of technology. In fact, Sereboff jokingly mused about integrating Web 2.0 biologically into our heads, which was a joke and a sci-fi pipe dream until this month, when a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin sent a tweet using only electrical impulses generated by his thoughts. In a field that is dominated by amateur filmmakers who understand the web and professional filmmakers who don’t, FM78 has a rare combination of web brilliance and film experience, and a vision to show the internet how original web content can be done right.