Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


Research Paper Idea: Web Shows

With the proliferation of the Internet and the rise of digital video emerged a new trend in Hollywood, original web shows. I am not talking about TV shows that are available on the Internet or webisodes which supplement an existing TV show like The Office or Heroes (although that could be a different paper). Rather, I’m interested in serial web shows with original narratives which are distributed by Hollywood movie studios and TV networks.

Hollywood web series are very much in experimental form; there hasn’t been a proven narrative model to follow yet. The generally accepted rule is that a web series should be released as a quick installment, designed for a web surfer with a limited attention span or for a commuter traveling to work with their iPod. How can a web show achieve an engaging serial narrative with such a restricting duration limit? I’d like to examine how a web shows’ narrative operates, focusing on the sci-fi genre in particular.

For example, Electric Farm Entertainment has produced Afterworld and Gemini Division for Sony Entertainment and NBC Digital, respectively. (Afterworld finished after 130 five minute episodes; Gemini Division will end the first season after 70) These web shows are unique because they involve not only a narrative complexity, but also a plethora of extratextual content which expands the story further. While Afterworld and Gemini Division certainly have their flaws, they do serve as prime examples for how web shows can function not just as a daily short video clip, but also as an immersive experience. The Sci-Fi channel’s Sanctuary (which is now a TV show) also aimed to create an engaging, interactive world. (its web show life totals 45 minutes)

My paper will attempt to analyze these sci-fi web shows, compare and contrast them, and examine how they achieve a unique, compelling experience for the viewer. The three shows seem to blend old media with new media, mixing narrative ingredients already proven to be effective (such as the beats and arcs of TV) and new Internet-based elements yet to be mastered (such as ARGs and social networks). Right now, my tentative thesis would be, and I have not seen all the episodes of the shows, that Afterworld, Gemini Division, and Sanctuary utilize an amalgamation of narrative devices from a variety of media, including comics, video games, novels, and TV Shows, all of which allow the show to potentially branch out into any of those platforms. Thus, web shows have potential to become the perfect incubator for transmedia franchises.

Of course, that thesis may/will change as I examine the three web shows further, but it’s nice to have a theory to work with anyway. As I mentioned, my paper will involve researching narrative in a variety of media, but one of the major influences for sci fi web shows clearly comes from comic books. Afterworld’s form is a motion comic book and both Gemini Division and Sanctuary incorporate stylized comic-bookie CGI. It is also a possibility that my paper discusses the parallels between comic books and web shows. (especially since Stephen King launched a terrifying motion-comic-book-web-series called N to promote his new book.)


  1. October 14th, 2008 | 9:11 am

    Aaron – This sounds like a great project, and I’d encourage you to focus on the question of what narrative elements seem to work most effectively in the webshow medium, and explore the cross-medium linkages you suggest. The scholarship in this area is still thin, but I’d definitely look for commentary on academic blogs, FlowTV.org, and other online sites. Good luck!

  2. October 14th, 2008 | 4:08 pm

    I also did a bunch of research about web serials for my bosses this summer (sort of a, “you’re young, you figure it out,” type thing). So what I know is, Gemini Division is filmed guerilla style, with one camera and a less-than-bare bones crew. Most of their funding comes from product placement, primarily Cisco, which they really endeavor to make plot-motivated, but who knows how successful that all is.

    Some other web serials for you: Ask a Ninja, Quarterlife (interestingly, failed in transition to NBC network TV during the strike … are narrative expectations significantly different for web and television?), Clark and Michael and the already infamous Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Good luck!

  3. October 14th, 2008 | 4:36 pm

    Oh, and I forgot the most important bit … the writers of Gemini Division say what they do to accommodate the shorter format of the web serial is cut out the entirety of act one. Each episode begins with Rosario Dawson on the run from the latest fantasy bogey-man so the narrative can jump straight to the juicy bits and hold audience attention. No exposition or set up.

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