Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
During a morning producers panel at TCA that focused on the brave new world of web television, a handful of pros held court to talk about all of the ways the Internet is changing the content game and taking the programming monopoly away from the living room. The five included Jane Espenson and Jeff Greenstein, producers of the Internet sensation Husbands (along with many network series); Mike Rosenstein and Stuart Cornfeld, exec producers of the web reality dating spoof Burning Love; and Ryan Lewis, exec producer of the web series Chosen. The beauty of fledgling form, all agreed, was how freeing the medium is in releasing writers and producers from the tyranny of their network overlords. “We are answerable only to ourselves,” boasted Greenstein, whose credits include Desperate Housewives, Friends and Will & Grace. “Yet we hold ourselves to the same standard as we’re held to when we’re doing network shows. We work really hard on the jokes and research and the look of the show. We try to make it as polished as possible. It’s completely on us if it’s good or bad, and that’s exhilarating after 20 years of receiving network notes.” Espenson agrees that the lack of notes is revelatory in itself. And yet she insists that the work involved, the writing, the production values, all are the same as if she were producing for regular TV. “We want it to have precisely the look and style of a traditional sitcom,” Espenson said. “More and more, television is not a word for a box that sits in your living room but simply a word for filmed entertainment that you enjoy.”
Indeed, Greenstein repeatedly emphasized that doing programming for the web isn’t about producing it on the cheap but in some ways the opposite, particularly when possible crowdfunding Kickstarter money is at stake (as it was for Husbands). “It’s essential that we have the crispness and polish of a network half-hour in every dimension,” he said. “I actually tried to work against the prevailing shaky cam style of single-camera. That extends to A-list costume designers and production designers and the whole thing.” His point is that there can be no distinction between TV for the web and for the other box, and that the Internet needs to be seen as just another distribution channel, while also being cognizant of being bold and daring. “It feels like we’re doing indie cinema and operating outside the system,” Greenstein said, “like guerrilla TV and working the fringes, It’s invigorating.”
It also can be more inclusive, as Espenson pointed out how the writers room for a web series tends to be more inclusive of women and minority scribes. “It presents a great opportunity for underrepresented writing groups,” she said. And in every other way, to Greenstein’s way of thinking, web production strips the process down to its creative skivvies, as it were. “For those of us used to working inside the lumbering hulk of a network show, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. You don’t have hundreds of people at your beck and call. You need to be more improvisational and willing to roll with the punches. And that brings out your creativity in a lot of ways.”
For Greenstein, it also brings out his gratitude in having an opportunity to be involved in a production situation that’s so fresh, compared to his usual day job. At the same time, he professes to have no prejudice against the broadcast networks. “My problem is with the development process,” he stressed. “That’s the part that I find so soul crushing. So many people want to put their grubby fingerprints on your imagination, to quote Elvis Costello…I just have no patience with that anymore.”