Niche is a word that’s thrown around a lot when “talking Web 2.0,” particularly concerning new web series offerings. Next New Networks, for example, has been creating web communities based around everything from comic book fans and car enthusiasts to amateur fashion designers and brides. In other words, micro-audiences that you might think are too small to base an entire network around using the old television model, yet now seem to be thriving on the web.
Even The Wall Street Journal agrees that, “niche Web programs like “Geek” [Geek Entertainment TV ]…are attracting the attention of some big marketers. While their audiences are tiny…their viewers are loyal.”
But what about comedy? Can a funny web show also be “niche” or is that just a euphemism for it being too narrowly focused and filled with one too many private-jokes? Sure, you could argue that Clark and Michael‘s (Tilzy.TV page) awkward dynamic and unpredictable improvisation might only be appealing to a limited fan base, but the show still hits too close to mainstream. Music has obscure genres like New-Wave-Black-Metal-Punk and Afro-beat-Psychedelic-Glam – can internet comedy?
Consider Channel101’s (Tilzy.TV page) new ultra-dry comedy Cautionary Tales of Swords, one of the nichiest show out there right now. Swords’ narrator and hero is Trip Fisk, a one-eyed, wife-beater-wearing elderly man with luxuriously long-flowing white hair, and, undoubtedly, the worst foul mouth in the county. Well, take a look:
My first clue that this show fits into the “niche” category was that the first three people I boasted about it to, after watching, didn’t think it was that great. I was shocked because I couldn’t stop laughing, particularly because Michael Ashe plays the role of Trip so whole-heartedly badass. My favorite line of his to date: “I find your indifference towards swords suspicious.” Well, you sort of had to be there.
I quickly started to realize just how niche this humor really was: there’s copious expletive-use, an ever-shifting plot structure, an odd (yet clearly justified) obsession with the danger of swords, just to name a few of its niche-isms. Yet for me, these jumbled elements struck a potent chord and it’s for this reason that I think humor-specific shows like Swords exemplify how the Internet will revolutionize the sitdotcom.
By leaving room for weird, offbeat, “niche” shows, comedy no longer need to be generalized to reach a mass audience. It doesn’t have to be a large net meant to scoop up as many viewers as possible. With the web, we all practically get to have our own hook to choose from, a more specialized offering, greatly increasing the chance you’ll find some quirky sitdotcom that near-perfectly matches your sense of humor.
And heck, if you don’t find one, with the tools so cheap and readily available, you can go out and make your own, again adding more hooks into the comedy pond. Then who knows, perhaps some dude in New Zealand’ll take a bite and love what he sees since also he happens to think dolphins wearing hats are hilarious.
Now by calling Swords niche, I don’t mean to infer that’s it not very popular or well crafted. In fact, due to audience popularity, writer/director Drew Hancock’s Swords has remained in Channel 101’s primetime for the past three months. And besides, the fact that the show is more of an acquired taste is what makes it so great.
There’s still one question lingering in my mind about niche comedy, and maybe you all can help. As shows become more specialized, more humor-specific, it seems clear that reaching a mass audience can no longer be the measure of success for an online show. But in this case, how should content producers measure success? How will they know they’re on the right track?