October 21, 2012

Super Golden Friends: Are Internet Sitcoms the Future of TV?

My readers may recall that I wrote about the Super Friends back in May 2012 (see my post HERE or at http://goo.gl/9fUIm for details). But the Super Friends as we Gen Xers knew them were actually in their prime back in the 1970s, and I know they're super and all, but they have to retire sometime, don't they?! So what happens when a group of four, aging Super Friends move to Miami in and share a ranch house, spending their golden years together? Well, that was basic idea behind this YouTube video created by artist Kevin Bapp which he calls "Super Golden Friends". Catch his video on YouTube below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/pBkAi-giu-g:

Mr. Bapp also commented in the accompanying YouTube video commentary: "This is a pilot I'd like to propose to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, if I knew anyone who worked there, and if all the licenses could be obtained."  It's an obvious spin on the 1980's sitcom "The Golden Girls", but with aging comic book characters instead of live actors/actresses.

Hmmmm, although I mentioned "The Avengers" in my May 28, 2012 post, and even commented that Warner Brothers already had the rights to some of the DC Comics library, and we learned that the company is indeed looking at a return of the Justice League sometime in the summer of 2015 (see HERE or http://lat.ms/OUlCKL for details).

It looks as if this will be an animated feature, as opposed to one featuring human actors. Still, the concept of a new Justice League cartoon movie seems destined for the big screen in the not-too-distant future (2015 to be exact). Could Super Golden Friends Find a Home on the Internet? While the Justice League may not have the humorous edge that Kevin Bapp's version does, it does make me wonder if Warner Brothers might actually be willing to consider such a concept?

To be sure, the rights to the "Golden Girls" may be a Disney property, but the theme song certainly doesn't belong to Disney, which means that's potentially up for grabs. That song, incidentally, was from Andrew Gold, who released (and it was actually played on the radio) "Thank You For Being a Friend" back in 1978. My aunt kind of liked the song and I remember she wanted to buy his album "All This and Heaven Too".  That song can be download by visiting http://amzn.to/Vi6qFr.

I should acknowledge that Andrew Gold himself passed away on June 6, 2011 (see http://bit.ly/mICzjk).  If Warner (or DC Comics) don't want to license the characters, I think Mr. Bapp could always do what Pixar did with "The Incredibles" ... they just wrote around it with familiar enough if not exact superhero characters. Mr. Incredible?

Nope ... not from any Marvel or DC Comics from what I can recall.  But it didn't matter.

Internet Sitcoms Arrive

Having said all of this, the concept of licensing the characters for comic value might be appropriate to an online audience. But the idea that television is needed to produce a series is, to some extent, becoming history. For example, there are already a few series already in production exclusively for the Internet. Some even have big-name Hollywood talent behind their efforts. One such example is Jane Espenson, who has written for shows including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Firefly", "Gilmore Girls", "Ellen", "The O.C.", "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", "Dinosaurs", "Andy Barker PI", "Battlestar Galactica", "Dollhouse", "Caprica", "Game of Thrones", "Torchwood: Miracle Day" and others.

While I wasn't really a huge fan of any of those shows, the fact is that she had the experience and credentials in the entertainment industry to do pretty much what she wanted. She raised some eyebrows in Hollywood when a recent project, notably a sitcom, which follows all the rules and conventions of any sitcom, except it's about a gay married couple.  Oh, and it airs on YouTube.  As she described it: "Mad About You but with two guys." When she and her co-writer Brad Bell came up with the idea, they realized it was such an obvious concept for a series that if network TV had wanted to do it, they already would have. So instead of going around pitching the show, they made it on the cheap, with their own money, on the Internet. A sitcom veteran, Jeff Greenstein, who did countless episodes of "Will and Grace", directed.

The end result is a YouTube series known as "Husbands" (http://husbandstheseries.com/) which is now entering it's second successful season, perhaps a sign that the era of internet series has finally reached a new phase of maturity.

Indeed, guest stars on "Husbands" in Season 2 will include some big-name talent from the small screen, including John Cryer of "Two and a Half Men" (although at least a few of us remember him equally as "Duckie" from the John Hughes' film "Pretty in Pink").

NPR's "This American Life" blogged about this effort HERE, writing: "Jane's hope is that some brave network – AMC? NBC? – will notice their little experiment and give them a budget larger than the cost of a Hyundai to blow people's minds on real TV. If they do it right, of course, they won't be blowing minds at all. They'll just be the New Normal."

Jane Espenson herself actually Tweeted following on NBC's new series "The New Normal" (which, incidentally, NBC has already renewed for another season):
She seems to be saying that the show (NBC's "The New Normal") doesn't push the boundaries quite as much as she did with her series "Husbands".

Perhaps she's right about that, but I would dare say that she seems to be breaking new ground not only with the content covered in her series "Husbands" but also with delivering sitcoms via the internet. Why Viacom's gay-themed network Logo hasn't picked the show up is beyond me.  Instead, Logo is running reruns of "16 and Pregnant", like any gay man or woman can even relate.  However, I would not be surprised if the "Husbands" show starts to have it's own sponsors in the not-too-distant future.

But the series' success also indicates that the role of the big media "gatekeeper" of what audiences are entitled to see may be over. Indeed, WNYC's "On the Media" program discussed this in a May 2012 broadcast, which can be listened to at http://wny.cc/SKi4t1.  For example, this year's Upfronts - the model that has been used by television channels to sell advertising and show off their slate of shows - featured a new competitor, and a new platform: online.  Digital programmers held the first-ever event to show off their online programming, which they've dubbed the "Newfronts".  Again, WNYC's "On The Media" covered that, which can be listened to at http://wny.cc/Ub9J65.  This is really a continuation of what began with the proliferation of cable stations with their own programming, but takes it a step further.

Time magazine (see http://ti.me/RPKaSh for the review) wrote:

"A lot of TV sitcoms about gay couples stick to very personal stories (adoption, surrogate parenting) and work from those to strike themes about larger changes in society. Husbands is doing the opposite: it starts from a high-satire topic about the public debate over gay marriage—its leads, being celebrities, know their marriage will be in the press no matter what—and through that, ends up telling a very sweet story about two guys trying to find a way to have a relationship simply as people."

They close by writing:

"It's the sort of thing that, in a bigger-scale TV show, might just collapse under its own sense of significance and topicality. Not so, so far, in Husbands, a show that manages to make a very little go a long way."

Regardless of whether someone has an interest in "Husbands", that show's success on the Internet goes a long way towards opening show content once deemed "inappropriate" (by the network executives) for mainstream television audiences. In doing so, the concept of there being a "Super Golden Friends" doesn't seem so far-fetched after all!

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