High Maintenance first graced our desktops in November of 2012 when the husband-and-wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfield began publishing their self produced show on Vimeo. Each episodes follows a nameless weed dealer (played by Sinclair) as he helps out different customers from different backgrounds in New York City. The show caught Vimeo’s attention who started financially backing production in 2014, before HBO snatched it up earlier this year. The trailer came out yesterday and it looks set to continue to explore the ups and downs of dealing to wealthy and the poor of NYC.
Each episode features a different character and thus focuses on different social classes in Manhattan and the other boroughs. The episodes vary in length which lend to meandering, character driven storytelling and it will be interesting how this translates to 30 minute long episode. For example, the producer might break the slot up into two 15 minute episodes instead, although transplanting the web-series format is just one of the challenges of making the cross over. We’re going to take a look at what it takes for a web-series to be a crossover hit and the difficulties producers encounter along the way.
1. Broad City
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson started their low-budget web series back in 2010 on Youtube, and it has since gone on to become one of the biggest web to TV success stories. Watching the first ever episode it is easy to spot traces of their characters but it was the time they spent on Youtube which allowed them the freedom to mold and perfect them into the Abbi and Ilana we know and love today.
Jacobson and Glazer started their creative partnership at the Chicago’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade, a seminal improv comedy troupe responsible for producing some important names in comedy today. Most notably, Amy Poehler who found the duo online and helped them bring the show to Comedy Central. The combination of lovable characters who’ve been tried and tested to perfection, and having a name like Poehler, in your corner launched Broad City onto browsers and TV screens nationwide.
2. Children’s Hospital
20 years ago, no producer in TV land would touch Children’s Hospital with a ten foot pole. The web-series created by Rob Cordry and David Wain started on Adult Swim’s channel and satirized the medical drama genre pushing adultery and melodrama into absurd and surreal territories.
The format changed over time as Cordry initially opted for 15 minute long episodes which were later broadcasted together with a fake commercial tying them together. The show gathered steam with it’s incredible cast (Ken Marino, Lake Bell, Rob Huebel and later Megan Mullaly and Henry Winkler) and its bizarre, unpredictable humor. Cordry and Wain had already a number of successful projects to their name and were therefore already established producers which helped them push this twisted trojan horse onto cable TV.
Lucas Cruikshank created to character Fred Figglehorn all the way back in the neo-lithic days of Youtube, 2006. Fred is 6 years old, lives in a dysfunctional home and has thrown more tantrums than Rihanna. Cruikshank and co were considered pioneers for breaking ground on how content could be created on Youtube and how anyone could become a phenomenon with just a webcam, editing software and some voice-altering effects. They were the first to cross the milestone of one million views which has now become bog standard as the music industry has taken over Youtube.
Following this success, Cruikshank was given the opportunity to produce Fred: The Film independently which was later picked up by Nickelodeon. The film was universally panned, receiving a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes and being one of the most grating film experience of our times. Fred is a good example of a web-series that stretched too far. Even with a larger budget and a John Cena cameo, it is incredibly difficult to stretch a 5 minute vlog format to an 83 minute feature, especially with a voice as high-pitched as Fred’s. Watch the trailer if you dare.
4. Drunk History
As Fred‘s success shows, a web-series doesn’t always need a famous name or an established producer in order for it to become a sensation. The appeal of producing for Youtube is that it allows literally anyone to gain recognition once they become a viral hit. Whether it was through word of mouth or love from blogs, Drunk History‘s audience grew exponentially and had acquired an enormous following before being picked up by Will Ferrel and Adam McKay and gracing Comedy Central screens.
Producers Jeremy Konner and Derek Waters had a simple format: get people wasted, have them recount a famous historical event and have that inebriated account reenacted by actors who fumble over their dialogue as the narrator slurs his/her word. The formula proved to be a smash hit and was successfully transplanted to a longer running time on Comedy Central with the help of some famous faces such as Jack Black, Will Forte and Adam Scott to mention a few.
All of these series are comedies and the genre lends itself to the web format more easily as drama requires more time to establish character, setting and story. Whether you’re vlogging, creating a satire or producing a show about what life is like in NYC, the biggest difficulty in jumping to TV seems to be stretching material and the format to the 25 minute slot. Some have made it work for them by just having great writers like Broad City, others have made TV adapt to their format and have shorter 15 minute slots like Children’s Hospital and Drunk History.
Which web-series would you like to see picked up next?
The pen is mightier than the sword but is ultimately useless in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Filmmaker, filmlover, MP staff writer.