Recently, the New York Times wrote a piece about how Comedy Central is transitioning into the era of over-the-top content, and one of the things they pointed out is how using web series to test out potential show ideas can be much more informative than the traditional pilot process. While that doesn’t mean they are constantly sniffing around the internet for every average Joe’s web series, is does signal that in the years to come, we’re likely to see the trend of web series getting looks from traditional media continue.
Which brings us to the topic of the day: YouTube web series that are on, or coming to, a television near you! I use an exclamation point not to say that being on TV is better than being on the web, but it is a sign of critical and business success to have backing from a traditional media outlet. So let’s take the time to look at how some of the web series below have sprung from YouTube to the ever-decreasing-in-importance small screen in your living room that’s not your smart phone.
Awkward Black Girl
Awkward Black Girl (Issa Rae) has had a long road to getting her incredibly popular web series to television. Again, that’s not to say that being on TV is or was a goal of Issa Rae’s, but she certainly has entertained it a lot along the way, and it looks like there will be a version of the show appearing on HBO in the “near” future. Awkward Black Girl has been one of the most popular web shows–dare I say–ever, and with over 1.7 million views for her first episode, and no backing from traditional media outlets, that’s an incredible feat and one that should be admired by any and all web creators. The show is incredibly genius and brings a lot of different cultures under one incredibly funny roof, including the culture of everyone’s favorite character: CeCe. Of course, Issa probably owes some of her show’s wide appeal to the help of Pharrell, who teamed up with Issa to put the show on his own YouTube channel. Given Issa’s critical and business success, many thought a show with a network’s backing was coming much sooner than it did. But it seemed like she never got the timing right with her producing team, or in the case of “I Hate LA Dudes,” just didn’t team up with the right network. But now everything seems to be falling into place. With a pilot order from HBO, a book that has done incredibly well, and tons of other projects in the works as part of her ColorCreative outlet, I’m sure Issa Rae will have plenty of other projects being bid over by traditional media–not that that’s the end goal.
Broad City (Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) is a web series that, quite frankly, didn’t get much in the way of attention when it was on YouTube. As funny as the web series was, its first episode, “Making Change“, has only garnered 484K views, and if I were to make an educated guess, a lot of that has probably stemmed from the success they’ve had in having 2 seasons worth of shows on Comedy Central. Of course, I don’t mean to discredit the web series, as I personally think it was borderline brilliant during its run, and it was certainly deserving of the praise and the eventual support of Comedy Central. But if we’re trying to identify the primary reason the show went from being a YouTube web series to having a regular slot on cable television, I don’t think mass appeal or being the cultural zeitgeist of its time is the reason. Instead, it likely had more to do with the co-creator’s affiliation with UCB, and undoubtedly, Amy Poehler’s decision to be in a webisode on the series was huge, as she ultimately helped the two ladies find a network that would run the show with Poehler serving as the executive producer. Thank God for Poehler helping bring the show to the masses, as I think both Ilana and Abbi will be around for a long time, making us laugh for years to come.
Black&Sexy’s The Couple stands out among these 3 YouTube web series in that it didn’t get the support of a major media figure in route to a television deal. And it’s probably safe to say, with just 318K views for its 1st episode, and 123K views for its second, this wasn’t a web series that was getting a lot of attention back in 2012 when it first launched. Instead, The Couple was the product of every web series creator’s dreams: someone in Hollywood came across their series on YouTube and decided to give the producers a phone call. The rest is history–or the future–depending on how you want to look at it. As we speak, the team at Black&Sexy is in the development process with HBO, working on a version of The Couple that plays off the original web series’ love for relationship battles and shortcomings, in what is sure to be both an entertaining and dramatic television show. I’m really looking forward to how they expand the show, or if they expand the show, beyond what it has traditionally done, which is to have two people play-off one another. As the producing team with the most business savvy among these 3 series, it’s going to be interesting to see what else from Black&SexyTV makes its way to traditional outlets, as the YouTube channel has now formed its own SVOD service and is currently being represented by the kind folks at UTA.