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October 8, 2015

Top TV Stories of 2008: Web TV goes big time - VIDEOS

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 19th 2008 7:02PM
NPH as Dr. HorribleAs I look back at the posts TV Squad did this year, a certain topic popped up quite a bit: "Hey, folks, take a look at [Name of big star] in this [funny/quirky/dramatic] web series you can only find at [Name of web site]!" While the quality of and star power behind web-exclusive programming has been building for a couple of years now, 2008 saw an explosion of web series that attracted enough buzz to make one wonder if Jeff Zucker wasn't thinking of this a little bit when he offered Jay Leno the 10:00 slot on NBC.

What caused this explosion? Well, we can thank one of 2008's other big stories -- the writers' strike -- for a lot of it.

Waylaid writers and actors, having nothing else to do while the WGA and AMPTP duked it out over the winter, decided to sit down and write those little goofy projects that had been running around in their heads for years. Two of the highest-profile web series, Dr. Horrible and Children's Hospital, came into being that way, for instance, and an entire web site of web-exclusive programming, Strike TV, was created as an outlet for much of what other writers and actors created in between stints on the picket line.

Dr. Horrible, though, was the standard-bearer, and not just because everyone's favorite culty auteur, Joss Whedon, was behind it. It was funny, touching, and had great performances from Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, and Nathan Fillion. But the key was that the production quality looked as good as anything anyone had seen on the web to that point; no shaky hand-held cameras, no shooting on-the-sly without a permit. This was a real Hollywood production, and it showed. Whedon also intelligently doled out the show one thirteen-minute episode at a time, and only made it free for a limited time. This built anticipation and gave people a collective viewing experience that was discussed around the watercooler almost as much as shows like Lost and Mad Men.

Children's Hospital was interesting for two reasons: 1) it was the first show on the new web-centric version of The WB to be noticed as more than a curiosity; and 2) it showed that actors of all stripes are eager to stretch their acting legs in this new form. Rob Corddry enlisted a lot of his comedic friends, including Megan Mullally, as regulars on the show, but he also brought a couple of actors not known for comedy, like Lake Bell, along for the ride. The final episode, which I won't spoil, even has a guest appearance by an actress who most people would have never guessed they'd see on a web series.

Of course, one-shot web shorts continued to garner attention, but the quality and star-power behind them also improved. Take the video superstar director Ron Howard did for FunnyorDie.com; he was so passionate about encouraging people to vote for Barack Obama, he enlisted his former TV co-stars Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler to reprise their old roles and help him. I mean, Andy Griffith. In a web video. The guy probably doesn't even know how to use a computer, which makes his presence even more remarkable.

Other web series of note: quarterlife, which actually was put on the schedule by NBC, only to fail miserably; Gemini Division with Rosario Dawson, which shows that sci fi on the web works as well as comedy; Seth MacFarlane's extension of his empire to the web with his Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy; the webisodes of Heroes, Lost and The Office; and The Guild, which gained in popularity thanks to Felicia Day's turn in Dr. Horrible.

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