Some people cringe when you refer to the web as a development ground (or minor leagues) for TV. And rightly so, the moniker is too limiting for what amounts to a super-fragemented online community of millions of avid surfers. Not every web series is meant for TV. That doesn’t stop network development execs from scouring video sites for the latest tweet-worthy vids.
With tonight’s premiere of Secret Girlfriend on Comedy Central, we have the latest data point to test the development lab theory. What started as a mobile phone series, that was later released as a web series through Atomic Wedgie, was able to catch the eye of development execs enough to order up six half-hour episodes.
The show’s creators, Jay Rondot and Ross Novie, have been at the online content game for a while, finding some success with their series The Rascal for Sony’s Crackle as well as the mobile-turned-web series for Fremantle that would become Secret Girlfriend, the TV series.
The concept of the series takes the same viewer-as-the-first-person perspective as the web series, albeit drawn out into two 11-minute chunks per episode. Sara E. R. Fletcher, who starred in the web series, takes the leading role as the viewer’s “secret girlfriend” Jessica sending frequent video voicemails to you while hanging out with your stuck-up ex-girlfriend Mandy (Alexis Krause) or your web video wannabe roommates Sam (Michael Blaiklock) and Phil (Derek Miller).
The internet references strewn throughout the show are up to snuff, even having the hapless viral creators posting their vids to Comedy Central’s Atom.com and Skyping each other on laptops. I talked to creators Rondot and Novie on the eve of the TV premiere, asking about the shift from web to TV budgets, the pressures of having much more at stake and how they plan on working the online angle.
“It kind of bothers both of us when other TV shows or movies throw hokey internet videos in them,” said Novie. “Even within our own show it was as fight in terms of how much internet feel we put in it. Having lived that life there are a lot of funny things that happen online.”
When the duo pitched it originally, “it was like Tamagotchi type decision tree,” said Novie. “You could have a relationship with a girl that you could pretend to yourself that you were having.” From the mobile series, which didn’t exactly take off in terms of views, Fremantle put the series on the web where thanks to a some sultry thumbnails attracted a steady crop of young males into the short eps.
The idea of viewer as the camera seemed to click. “We felt out the device of having everyone addresss the camera,” added Novie. “The viewer is the camera. Other than some children’s shows, nothing else is really doing that.” So for them, the web was the laboratory, and when asked about that concept the two agreed. “You get to make a showpiece for free, almost a presentation, to go out and pitch,” said Rondot.
The fate of web series-to-TV isn’t exactly a golden storybook, most notably being Quarterlife’s creash and burn on NBC back in 2007. MTV hasn’t yet re-upped on its web-pickup The CollegeHumor Show yet which. And speaking of MTV, we’re still waiting on Private High Musical to make it out of development and see that pilot they ordered.
There’s no question the eyes of the web series world will be paying attention to how this one does. Fletcher herself is relatively unknown to TV viewers, but has been a regular online in series like Glenn Rubenstein’s Red Earth 88 and The Fine Brothers’ Prop 8: The Web Series. And her co-star Derek Miller headlined last summer’s PBR loving Every Hipster on Atomic Wedgie.
Secret Girlfriend premieres tonight at 10:30 PM (9:30c) on Comedy Central. Photos by Mark Davis, courtesy Comedy Central.