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Are Web Shows the Wave of the Future?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Since she was 12, Hannah Macpherson has wanted to be a filmmaker.

She went the traditional film school route, earning her film degree from Loyola Marymount University. But after working for a while as a producer on the “Wife Swap” reality TV show, she came home to Albuquerque to write and produce a new Web series called “Date Doctor TV.”

“I really wanted to get back into narrative production,” Macpherson said. “I just needed to be in production. The whole Web world is so new, people are just now figuring out what webisodes are and what they can be.”

She’s part of a growing group of local folks who are taking up producing serialized shows on the Internet. The new group of filmmakers is trying to crack the code of how to make money and find viewers for independent, and often quirky, shows on the Web. Webisodes have gone beyond the schlocky and have moved into the realm of serious entertainment, and today big stars are in their own shows and using the creative freedom of the Web to do more than they ever could on TV or in film.

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Macpherson’s “Date Doctor TV” is a fictional look at one man’s quest for the perfect woman through a series of bad — really bad — dates.

“It’s a Web series that’s designed like a snack,” she said. “It’s two- to three-minute episodes you can enjoy at work or the end of the day.”

Web shows are catching on, and thousands of them — from the offbeat like “Ask A Ninja” to the weirdly serialized community of “Homestar Runner” — are seeing thousands, if not millions, of hits.

We’re not talking about sites like Hulu.com  , where you can watch network shows on your PC. Instead, these shows are independent series that are simply trying to grain traction. Some are streamed through YouTube. com or Blip.tv; others via their own Web sites.

“This is an experiment,” said Angelie Gamboa, producer of “Santa Fe TV Show.” Her show is a travelogue of New Mexico and the state’s weird and strange locales.

“I’m a Web person. I don’t do any TV. My ultimate goal is to take it nationally. What we’re really seeing is the lifestyle of the Southwest,” Gamboa said. “If you can bottle what the Southwest is, this is what it is.”

Since December, the show has taken off, and she has already seen more than 70,000 hits. But that’s a fraction of the number of the people who watch just one station’s local news at 10 p.m. in Albuquerque.

But this may be the start of the era of the Web series.

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Broadband Internet is more prevalent than ever, allowing people to stream videos of shows to their computers almost anywhere. More importantly, some say, devices like the iPhone or the new iPad may become the TV of the 21st century.

And, like TV and film, Web shows also have their own awards show which, of course, you can watch live on the Web tonight at Streamys.org. The Streamys, for the second year, will give awards to the best shows that are only on the Web.

Many are saying streaming video may be the future of scripted entertainment, though there haven’t been any real breakout stars from the Web. Yet.

The same ideas that have driven independent filmmaking since the 1960s are driving the revolution. The heyday of independent filmmaking, when a kid with some skills and a 16 mm camera could make a film, is done. Chances are slim there will be another “Clerks” or “Buffalo 66” any time soon on the big screen. But those same people are now picking up digital cameras and making Web shows.

In fact, it seems that “The Secret Life of Scientists” and “The Legend of Neil” are the next inside jokes among those in the know.

Big stars are now picking up on the Web episode tip, including comedian Zach Galifianakis from “The Hangover” and Lisa Kudrow from “Friends.” Galifianakis’ series “Between Two Ferns,” a celebrity ambush interview show, is sidesplittingly funny, if you think embarrassment is a good time. Kudrow plays an unsympathetic therapist who, under the guise of helping people, demeans them via Web cam.

But, said Phil Hughes, the writer, director and producer of the horror show “The Scare Game ” in Albuquerque, Web shows may need some celebrity champions to let people know there is a wealth of creative shows just waiting on the Web for viewers.

“That’s the big question, the big X-factor,” Hughes said. “It’s a hard scene. It’s still trying to find its place.”

But, he said, the film world is just as hard to break into.

“There are a billion film festivals and 10 billion entries to all of them,” he said.

Since August, Hughes has made four episodes of “The Scare Game,” a graphic horror series.

“We shot the pilot in August; we were going to use that to find funding,” he said. “We were lucky that friends of ours liked it and thought it was a worthwhile venture.”

He has been able to stretch his shoestring budget and is gearing up to shoot Episodes 5 and 6 in early May, between his day-job duties.

Though many are making the shows, the particulars are tough to figure out. How do you market to a worldwide audience? How do you make money? Do you stream a video on your own Web page that you control, or use YouTube.com  ? What’s the best time of year to release a new show? What’s the best day of the week to release new episodes?

“Because the Internet is so individual, everybody ingests the media differently,” Hughes said. “I don’t think you can find an official way to do it.”

In his case, because “The Scare Game” is graphic, he posts edited, general audience versions of the show on YouTube.com  , and directs viewers to the unedited versions on the official Web site, and it seems to be working.

Debrianna Mansini of Santa Fe is working on the Web series “Cyphers,” a scifi drama. But, she said, she doesn’t want to release the series until some of those questions are answered.

“Webisodes are new. Is there a pilot season? We’re figuring we have one launch, and we don’t want to screw it up,” Mansini said. “You have to think globally, and people are communicating on their iPhones and iPads. You have to think outside of your local area.”


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