Evolution of the Web Series, the Untold History of the Internet

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Evolution of the Web Series — Did You Know the First One Was in 1988

Untold History of the internet

Once upon a time, long before the Internet changed the way people live their everyday lives, there was a groundbreaking form of storytelling called “The QuantumLink Serial” on AOL. Masterminded by writer Tracy Reed in 1988, the world would experience the first-ever online fictional series via chat room, email and traditional narrative. It would also be interactive, as Reed would oftentimes incorporate material inspired by fans. After its end in 1989, the web would not host anything like this for quite awhile.

In 1995, a man named Scott Zakarin would conceive and create the “The Spot,” which featured a cast of twenty-somethings living in Santa Monica. The characters, known as “Spotmates,” would share (pre-LiveJournal) diary entries almost on a daily basis. Much like “The QuantumLink Serial,” fans were able to alter storylines by sending emails to the characters who would reply back thanks to a Zakarin-led writing team. With the addition of advertiser-funded video, the world had its very first web series. Although it peaked quickly with numerous 100,000+ hit days, phony versions of this soap would dilute the industry and force its production company into bankruptcy by 1997.

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Fast-forward to now and you have a staggering amount of options for online episodic content. Some of the first ones that come to mind are probably “House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black” and the TV-to-web “Arrested Development” found on the streaming heavy hitter Netflix. Heck, even Miley Cyrus, William Shatner, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Poehler, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Tom Green, Lisa Kudrow and many other celebrities have jumped on the web series bandwagon in the past several years. It has even launched some careers, such as the leading ladies from the Poehler-produced “Broad City” now on Comedy Central.

Possibly the best part of the web series phenomenon is the ability for artists to tell stories to a wide audience or, specifically, their audience on a relatively low budget. Last year, the award-winning “EastSiders” — which explores personal relationships in many forms — operated on a meager $25,000 budget for the entire season. This year, however, they have a much loftier mark of $125,000 and they are knee-deep in a Kickstarter campaign that I encourage you to check out. Even this number isn’t absurd, considering the creative team expects to hike production value on top of an already expanded cast.

When asked about the long-term goals for the show, creator/star Kit Williamson (“Mad Men”) says, “I’m trying to keep my goals simple — I just want to make the best show I possibly can. For season two that means juggling more characters and storylines and taking the time to set up more challenging shots. I am excited to have the show available internationally and we are working with Wolfe to bring the show to more places around the world with free streaming, as well as VOD and DVD.”

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As the number of web series has grown over the past years, so has the culture specific to that world. John Halbach, who produces and stars in “EastSiders,” can now be seen in season two of the highly lauded series “Wallflowers.” This show recently kicked off a new platform for web shows called Stage17, which targets theater-going audiences online.

Created by Kieran Turner, the hilarious yet heartfelt “Wallflowers” centers around a group of thirty-somethings dealing with life in New York City who come together in a singles support group. The universal theme of love along with quirky characters, a wide variety of relationships and the infinite opportunities for guest stars makes the show a potential mainstay online, or perhaps even more.

Due to the success of Netflix’s original shows, look for even more quality programming from other sources in the near future. Amazon has already made its initial attempts at competing. Many believe that the web will one day overtake TV. With the way things are moving these days, why wouldn’t it?

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