Here ya go, peer producers and other entrepreneurial creative sorts – the answer you/we/everybody wants to know:
by Aymar Jean Christian
Five years ago, making a web series to get on traditional television was a fool’s game. The few web series producers to secure development deals with networks — from “We Need Girlfriends,” “Quarterlife,” “Private High School” and “The College Humor Show” — either never made it to air or didn’t last long when they did.
But today many more web series have been optioned for TV and made it onto television. Some have even been successful, making it to a second season — like Comedy Central series “Broad City,” which was renewed last night. More series could be coming soon. In the past year hardworking producers like Issa Rae, Ray William Johnson, Benny and Rafi Fine, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenefeld and have all signed development deals.
Now that web production is an established route on the long, hard path to a television series, it’s worth asking: how do web productions get developed?
There are many paths to network television, and they all involve some combination of knowing the right people, achieving popularity online or finding a match with a network in need of buzz.
The Celebrity Shepherd
Comedy Central’s freshman series “Broad City” has been enough of a hit to earn a second season — the sitcom is bright and refreshing, particularly in light of that network’s macho brand. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are a true indie story: the Upright Citizens Brigade members started producing the series on a shoestring budget as a way to demonstrate their comedy chops in the competitive New York market.
The pair made two seasons, starting in 2010, and the online series made its way to Amy Poehler’s browser, who likely saw the two smart girls as a younger Amy and Tina best-friendship. Poehler, who appeared as a guest star on the web incarnation, decided to executive produce a television version of the series and helped Glazer and Jacobson find a network home.
For creators making writerly series, from character-driven comedies to arthouse experiments in short-format storytelling, one route to TV is catching the eye of a celebrity executive producer. The benefit of this approach is that powerful executive producers can get creators multiple meetings with networks and help protect the voice of the show. As in the case of Don Roos and Lisa Kudrow’s “Web Therapy,” which is still airing new episodes on Showtime, it helps if your creator and star is already a television icon. Issa Rae has had two such partnerships, one with Shonda Rhimes and more recently with Larry Willmore for an HBO series that has critics excited. Black & Sexy TV’s “The Couple” secured its HBO development deal with director Spike Lee. Expect to see more of this in the future.