Bob Tinsley’s Been Thinking About New Media

…And, frequent TVWriter™ visitor that he is, Bob has a few questions (as well as an opinion or three):

LB and Munchman seem to believe that web series are, if not THE future, one of the major elements of the future of TV (is that term even relevant anymore? More later.) writing. I decided to force Monkey Mind into investigating this phenomenon.

First up is *Ark*, a science fiction web series created and written by Robbie Thompson, most recently, I think, story editor on *Supernatural*, before that on the late, unlamented *The Cape* and staff writer on *Human Target*. The first (and only, so far as I can tell) season of Ark is made up of 9 episodes, each running between 3 and 10 minutes, for a total series running time of 47 minutes. I watched the whole series in one block on Hulu and have to say that, overall, I was impressed. But I will say that if I had to wait a week or more between episodes, I don’t think I would have stuck it out. The episodes are just too short to be watched on an individual basis. While each episode ends on a compelling cliff-hanger, I think they are too short to develop a strong enough connection between the characters and the viewer to survive a long intermission.

Aside from episode length, the only other fly in this ointment is in the final episode when Thompson makes the main character, a woman, behave in a way that defies logic and causes her to act out of character. Threw me right out of the story, reminding me of that lamentable horror movie trope where you are screaming at the screen, “Don’t go down those stairs, you thrice-damned idiot!”

That said, the ending made me want to see the next season, which will likely never happen.

I’ve also been watching some originals on You Tube from Wigs and MachinimaPrime channels. These episodes tend to run 7 to 12 minutes on the Wigs series and 16 to 20 minutes on the MachinimaPrime series. I think the 7 to 12 minute time range is pretty much the minimum you need to establish a character that the viewer will remember long enough to wait a week between episodes, while the 16 to 20 minute range is much more likely to bring a viewer back.

So what do you guys think? What is the minimum episode length that would allow you to develop a character and story line that the viewers would want to wait a week or more to see again? And what about the wait between episodes? Given the shorter viewing time, is a week too long to wait for the next episode?

As for the term *TV writing* as applied to web series (see, I told you there would be more), I think we need to redefine this as *video writing* (or something similar) to distinguish this from that antiquated legacy form, television. Again, any other nomenclatural suggestions?

EDITED BY LB TO ADD: I have some thoughts about Monkey Mind’s issues, which boil down to:

  1. 3 minute episodes definitely work for me as a viewer (and writer), and I’ve read several studies that show that today’s web video audience (think “millennials”) is happiest with videos that are shorter than 5 minutes. That being the case, it’s the longer episodes of ARK that I’ve had problems focusing on. (Oh, and I think it’s a real sign of the future that a real production company – marginal as it may be – has put up the money to hire a real writer and real actors as well. Really.)
  2. I don’t know if the way to achieve clarity when discussing web series’ writing is to change the term from “TV writing” to something else (hey, “video writing” is fine with me) or if it’s to change our definition of TV/television. BigMedia and its flunky, Mainstream News, seems to be headed in that direction, redefining TV as any video content available anywhere that can also be shown on a television set. On one hand, that in itself is a good reason to go Bob’s route because who wants to agree with BigMedia? OTOH, the last time I used BigMedia’s commonly accepted term for a New Media development (“peer production” for “user-made content”) I found myself the only one. Yeah, I’m still using it here on TVWriter™ but that doesn’t keep me from feeling lonely.
  3. Speaking of “What is TV and where do we watch it?” we just happen to have a choice little article on said topic right here on TVWriter™. Posted today, in fact. HERE.

So, in the words of Bob Tinsley, “What do you guys think?”