Thursday, August 27, 2009

Web Videos on TV

From the moment the very first video clip went viral on the internet, television has been trying to find a way to capitalize on web videos. This has resulted in several sad, painful, failed clip shows that had nothing to offer except a compilation of videos that everybody had already seen.

Thankfully, a trio of new shows debuted earlier this year that have reversed the trend.

Of the three shows, this is the one I know the least about due to the fact that I don't receive the network it's on. (I can't imagine why DirecTV thinks G4 belongs in the highest-priced tier.) But I've caught an episode or two, and it seems fine enough to recommend. As the title suggests, it's a sister of E!'s popular "The Soup." Host Chris Hardwick fills the Joel McHale role of setting up clips, and then comedically tearing them down.

An animated series from the creators of "Drawn Together," "DJ and the Fro" follows two cubicle dwellers who shirk their job responsibilities in favor of watching and commenting on YouTube clips. The web clips are framed by stories that take place in the office during those rare moments when DJ and Fro step away from their computers. The comedy is crude and the scenarios are ridiculous, but it makes me laugh.

My favorite of the three, "Tosh.0" is in a similar vein of the "- Soup" programs: a host in front of a green screen introduces clips and then makes jokes about them. Comedian Daniel Tosh seems to have found a format that suits him well. In addition to general mockery of web clips, "Tosh.0" has themed segments which add variety to the proceedings. The weekly "video breakdown" takes clips that are so loaded with funny moments that they warrant beat-by-beat analysis. In the "web challenge," Tosh presents a theme or activity and encourages viewers to submit their own videos. But the show's signature idea is the "web redemption" segment, wherein they track down people from notoriously embarrassing viral videos (like the Afro Ninja), and give them an opportunity to publicly achieve the stunt they failed so hard at doing the first time around.

What makes all three of these shows successful is that they know they owe their audience original content. We don't tune in to see the web videos; we tune in to see what funny people are going to say about those videos. This was the mistake the TV networks made in the early days of bringing web videos to TV: they thought that merely bringing the clips to a different screen would be enough to attract viewers.

"Web Soup" airs on G4 Sundays at 10:30 PM. "Tosh.0" is on Comedy Central Thursdays at 10 PM (look for new episodes in October). And "DJ and the Fro" -- which burned off 12 original episodes in only three weeks -- can be found in reruns on MTV. I'm not sure if MTV is ordering any more episodes, but I hope they do.

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