Here’s To Productions has released a pilot episode for their new series Graduates, and it is good. Thirty minutes of good. In fact unlike the short form episodes favored by most web series studios, they’ve got a full half-hour TV-length pilot out.
The show stars Josh Ruben, David Futernick and Steve LaChioma (We Need Girlfriends) as John, Cameron, and Gus: a trio of grad students who are too old to party like the undergrads but too young to resist trying. Graduates takes inspiration from college classics like Old School but turns up the responsibility a notch; while booze, sex, bodily excretions, and the cops are still staples of the plot, the characters also have to juggle their duties as grad students and TAs. When John (Ruben) is forced to navigate around a death in the faculty, a suicidal dean, a deliciously douchebaggy professor (Evan Young, played by Daniel Shafer), and bookishly cute Sarah Ferrel (played by Jo Armeniox), he enlists the help of Cameron (Futernick), who is busy enough fending off the advances of one of his female students (Marisol, played by Rachel Wood) and Gus (LaChioma) who is trying to make up for lost undergrad partying and a broken heart.
Tubefilter: What inspired Graduates, and why did you choose to do this independently of HBO?
Paul Gulyas: Graduates was inspired by a New York Times op-ed piece online that Jorge found about something called “The Odyssey Years“… It’s this emerging life phase, that precedes adulthood, that wasn’t around fifty or sixty years ago. Jorge, Pat, and I are kind of in the thick of it right now ourselves. It’s about a “decade of wandering” where people in their early-twenties to early-thirties are experimenting more- with careers, relationships, traveling etc, people are taking more time to settle on multiple aspects of their lives, whereas fifty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to be married and have a kid on the way by 22. Part of this is because people are going to school for longer periods of time – graduate school.
Around the same time Jorge found this article, I was able to attend a “conversation circle” at my work with Richard Plepler, co-president of HBO, and hear him talk about what made certain series in the HBO mosaic successful – and he used the term “core-gut connectors”. It’s something that really resonates with people beyond initial attractions; The Sopranos wasn’t about the mafia, it was about a guy in his 40’s struggling with family and advancing at work; Sex and the City wasn’t about four women trying to find the perfect guy, it was about a woman trying to find her home. And this connected with audience on an emotional level because they saw themselves and their own struggles in these stories and characters. And when Jorge showed me the “Odyssey Years” article, I thought– there really isn’t a core-gut connector for this demographic. The wanderers. And what better way to demonstrate this transition between adolescence and adulthood than three confused early-twenty year-olds in grad school, surrounded by partying undergrads, which they were themselves a year ago, but now have become peers of the faculty, pulling them like a tractor beam towards adulthood. And thus, Jorge, Patrick, and I wrote Graduates.
As for why we chose to do this independently of HBO Lab: we really wanted for this to remain ours, and we’re glad we did because it was a tremendous learning experience for all of us to take a pilot from the very beginning– from conceptualizing and breaking a story, to rewrite after rewrite, to budgeting, casting, hiring a crew, a full five day shoot on location, months and months post-production, and now the marketing of it online and trying to get it seen by the right people. Wouldn’t trade that for the world, and we would have missed out if HBO Lab had taken the reigns. Also, HBO Lab is very strategic; everything we do is very calculated and purposeful. It is kind of counter-intuitive these days to release a half-hour piece of content on the web. I just don’t think it would have flown.
Tubefilter: What will we see in future episodes? Are there any sponsorship leads on the horizon?
Gulyas: Future episodes have been beaten out, but really, whether anybody gets to see them or not depends on if we do find somebody – a network, a sponsor – to say “Here’s some money. Make more.” Pat, Jorge, and I raised some money and then took out a hefty-sized loan we’ll be paying off a ways down the line. We have talked to ad sales people who’ve expressed to us that Graduates is very sellable, and that advertisers will be interested because it hits well with that coveted demographic. We are very optimistic about it. When more episodes ARE made, you can look forward to much more interaction between all the characters. In this pilot episode the storylines were basically John/Sarah/Evan, Gus/Petzold, Cameron/Marisol. In future episodes John must team with Petzold to ultimately triumph in a tailgating challenge, Gus takes a special liking to Sarah (much to her annoyance), and Evan turns his evil sights on Cameron after Cameron sees the professor smooching with an undergrad. And the introduction of many more characters.
Tubefilter: How do you like working with a half-hour show format? Do you feel any particular advantages or disadvantages putting a 30 minute show out on the web?
Gulyas: We never had any intention of making this a web series with five minute episodes. The advantage of working on the web is that you don’t have restraints on how long you have to tell a story. You can take as little or as much time as you need. It’s very organic. Some people take that and make episodes a few minutes long. But we wanted to do something different and stand out. Because with the success of sites like Hulu, and other network sites streaming their shows on the web, we are seeing more and more people sitting down in front of their computers to watch long-form content.
We believe that this is the way internet entertainment is going and wanted to be some of the first independent content creators to compete with the networks for this particular web audience. Also, we understand it is hard for content to stand out in a content-saturated world. We thought going against the grain, doing something different by producing a half-hour episode that could be successful on the web as well as TV, would help get us attention. Really, who is going to notice a bunch of twenty-year olds putting out two minute episodes on the web anymore? It is extremely difficult. There are a few disadvantages to the half-hour though– it takes longer for people to get back to us, as they have to definitely set aside a part of their day to watch, unlike short internet content. But we’re surprised we haven’t had ANY comments complaining of it’s length or that we should shorten it. The response has all been overwhelmingly positive.