It’s not hard to notice that Shira Lazar is a maven on Twitter. Very little slips past one of her handful of carefully watched social streams, despite being one of the hardest working women in web video. And now it seems, Lazar has taken the old ‘Do What You Love’ adage to heart, launching her latest—and most ambitious—project to date, convincing not only an old media institution but an old guard bluechip brand to back What’s Trending, a weekly live interactive web show and a daily news source for exactly what Lazar and her team know best—what’s trending on the internet and social media.
Even as we wrote about Lazar’s many web shows over the past few years, she would often hint at her vision of creating a show built around trending news topics. But the concept needed the right mixture of backing and distribution, something too often overlooked in new web series launches.
That meant taking the concept to CBS News, where Lazar had a semi-regular blog (‘On The Scene with Shira‘) and video blogging correspondent gig on the now-defunct The Tomorrow Show. The idea of a distinctly old media news brand taking the leap into backing an upstart live web show wasn’t exactly an easy sell. It helped to wrangle a major brand—AT&T—into sponsoring the show.
A web show with a brand sponsor behind it still needs viewers, and the time slot for the weekly half-hour show, 10:00 AM PT / 1:00 PM ET on Tuesdays, was picked to capture the biggest online audience for CBS News with the East Coast on its lunch break and the West Coast just getting going. Each episode will feature Lazar as the central host recapping the trending news of the day followed by one on one interviews—broadcast live, mind you—of social media influencers like Will.i.am, Cory Booker and Guy Kawasaki. The interactive component will let viewers ask questions directly to the guests in real time through Gigya’s socially connected chat widget.
The What’s Trending site has been active the past few weeks, as Lazar and her fellow Executive Producer Damon Berger race to finish the build-out of their new 2,500 square foot Hollywood studio before the live show’s launch next Tuesday. “We do believe in contributing and creating noise beforehand, and not just in advertising and marketing, but in actually creating valuable content for people,” Lazar told us from her studio still buzzing with set builders. “That means creating context and bringing people to the source of the headlines they might just see in their Twitter feeds—something larger than 140 characters.”
“It’s about showing you those culturally relevant stories, or ‘what you need to know to be in the now’,” she added. “You’re informed and you can share those with your friends.”
She’s quick to point out that it’s not an entertainment show playing the rat race of celebrity news headlines. “We look at it as a talk news show for the digital age. We cover topics ranging from an new hit album to the conflict in Syria to Antoine Dodson.” Limiting it to one topic niche, as many web shows do, is something she is happy to avoid. “I look at all of my friends and all our Twitter streams and we’re not that one-sided. All of us like sharing many types of information so why isn’t there a show that represents those type of conversations.”
In many ways, Lazar could be the Katie Couric of the web, ironically on the same network that until recently was anchored by Couric. “I love the legacy and the brand of CBS News and its standards, that brings with it a lot of credibility,” added Lazar. “I’m coming from a different generation and I built my career on the web and they have been a great partner in acknowledging that.”
The team surrounding Lazar is a handpicked group of regular contributors like social media correspondent Melissa Jun Rowley, managing editor Michelle Castillo, and Erik Tavcar who is head writer and producer. Guest correspondents will also chime in with their trending thoughts like tech guru Chris Pirillo, social media expert and filmmaker Jason Pollock, Social Good expert Beth Kanter, Gov 2.0 expert Alan Silberberg, Social Media scientist Dan Zarrella, What The Trend’s Liz Pullen and O’Reilly Radar’s Alexander Howard. Veteran web series creator Brett Register has been tapped as the show’s director.
A Model to Watch
The concoction of major news outlet with a brand sponsor and what is effectively a startup is a new form of model for web shows. In effect it’s a model worth exploring, and depending on how it performs, worth emulating. “Online, with traditional networks, there aren’t a lot of them doing original programming because it does require money,” Lazar pointed out. “But there’s no staple show for the Facebook generation and we want to fill that gap.”
The funding from AT&T is seed capital that allowed for the team to build out a full production studio in downtown Hollywood, with a striking, and real, Hollywood skyline backdrop of through their windows and a fully tooled control room for mixing the live show and various pre-taped segments. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t just putting on a web cam or an unproduced live stream,” added Lazar. “We wanted to raise the bar and create a broadcast quality show online with the authenticity and interactivity of the web.”
What’s Trending’s official launch of the weekly series is Tuesday, May 17 at 10:00 AM PT / 1:00 PM ET.