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November 1, 2014

From URL to DVR: Is TV Ready for More Internet-Based Ideas?

by Ryan McGee, posted Oct 8th 2010 5:30PM
William ShatnerIt's one thing to have scripted television based on existing franchises. Fans who demand original ideas in their evening televised entertainment may not be thrilled by the remakes of 'Hawaii Five-0' or 'Nikita,' but at least those properties have striven in their early episodes to use the previous incarnations as things to jump off of rather than simply trace over. But it's quite another for fans to see the Internet picked over like a worldwide flea market to locate the next hit show. And yet, that very act is happening more and more often.

The first foray into this less-than-brave new world? '$#*! My Dad Says,' the critically trounced yet ratings (semi)-hit for CBS. Networks are ignoring the reviews and looking at the Nielsen ratings, which is the only explanation for learning that the website 'Awkward Family Photos' has also landed a production deal. As difficult as it was to fathom the translation (and, let's face it, execution) of Twitter feed to sitcom has been, it's even more difficult to project how a series of admittedly amusing photographs will translate to the small screen. (One has to assume it won't be a weekly montage of pictures set to cheekily relevant music.) Throw in the critical and financial success of 'The Social Network,' and one can easily see a veritable stampede of 'net-related projects flooding Hollywood's studios.

But despair not, television fans. I'm here to tell you to embrace this new age of television, one that takes the democracy of the Internet and combines it with the often clueless programming gurus of major and minor television networks, ultimately turning what you love on your laptop into something you'll probably loathe on your flat screen. Rather than swimming against the tide, I've decided to go with the flow and aid those seeking the Next Great Shat. I won't even charge a commission for these ideas should they be picked up. I'm nice like that.

Here are some slam-dunk ideas for television shows based on what's popular on Al Gore's Internet these days.

'Texts From Last Night.' In some ways, this is an obvious choice. Why? Because the website already has a production deal in place. Nothing has come of it yet, but given the momentum outlined above, can it be THAT far off from appearing on our sets? I propose the show work backwards from its choicest selections, using the text in question as the basis for that week's story. Given the rather lascivious and downright lewd scenes described in the site's missives, I'd argue that either Showtime should run with this (getting back to its "Red Shoe Diaries" roots) or that MTV actually finds kids dumb enough to read a text and then try to reach that result on their own. The former could be an edgy project for a network that doesn't shy away from edginess. The latter could be produced for the cost of a few bottles of Jägermeister. Pros and cons both ways.

'Craigslist TV.' This is another project already in the works -- but only as a YouTube channel, not a full-blown program that could knock out the next 'Lone Star.' So clearly there's work to be done here. The premise "is to track, in real time, the life experiences of people who place ads on craigslist.com," with planned episodes titled "Drinking Buddy" and "Getting Married." Depending on which network picked up this show, I could see titles more in line with the actual Craigslist experience, such as "Want My Old Dirty Couch?", "$2400 / Loft in Queens," and various other episodes in which the letter 'S' is suspiciously replaced by dollar signs.

'I Can Haz Telahvishun?' Fear not, Animal Planet. I've got a new show for you right here. Based on the popular lolcat phenomenon, this show would highlight the wacky things that felines do on a daily basis, with a mixture of aplomb, humor, and Photoshop. Since the site's primary humor hook lies in the juxtaposition of pictures and text apparently typed out by the cats themselves, the words themselves would be the first to go. Instead, all captions will be read aloud by an invisible narrator. Animal Planet would probably opt for some generic, whiny voice to mimic the cats' everyday struggles. But if they wanted to make Must See TV, they would hire someone like Christopher Walken or John Malkovich to do the voiceovers. You SO don't want to know what happens if they don't get their cheezburger.

'How I Met Your Gawker.' Kids: You'll eventually meet the person that spilled the beans about your dad's private life for the whole world to read, but only after several seasons in which you THINK you've seen that person, only to find out it wasn't them at all.

'CSI: TMZ.' The logical marriage of the ubiquitous TV series and the ubiquitous gossip site. Sure, TMZ has a daily television magazine, but nothing that steals precious primetime slots away from more deserving shows. The forensic specialists don't investigate dead bodies so much as the dearth of professional opportunities for that week's 'victim.' Each episode, victims such as Lindsay Lohan, Kato Kaelin and whoever got kicked off that week's 'Dancing with the Stars' or 'Celebrity Apprentice' examine the corpse that is their career.

'Tumblr: The Series!' The popular blogging platform gets its own series. But rather than focus on the ease-of-use that allows people to add various forms of media to a central site, a network like the male-centric Spike would see the word 'Tumblr' and think it referred to some extreme form of gymnastics. They would either take this property and turn it into a 'Jack-Ass' type stunt show, or try and create a low-budget knock-off of the 1985 film 'Gymkata.' Coming this Fall to Spike: Jason Statham IS 'The Tumblr!' (In the same vein, plenty of networks that cater to children's programming could do worse than greenlight the series 'My Friend Flickr.')

Those are just a few suggestions, network executives. But I'm sure readers have plenty of their own thoughts as well. So share below, fair readers! What other shows should surf over to your television in the near future?

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