SXSW Report: Lisa Kudrow Brings Web Therapy to Online Viewers
The stakes are low and so are the dollars, but there's freedom and innovation in creating an original online series.
In a fourth day South by Southwest Interactive festival discussion, "Friends" alum Lisa Kudrow shared lessons she's learned creating the original online series, "Web Therapy" -- a series that was picked up by Showtime in July, 2011.
"Web Therapy" is about a self-involved therapist who holds her patient sessions online and limits them to three minutes. Kudrow stars as the therapist, with a variety of actors playing the patients.
"We have fantastic guest stars -- if you think Meryl Streep is fantastic and I do," said Kudrow.
The idea of doing a web series was first floated to Kudrow by her agent several years back. At the time, Kudrow viewed web shows as mostly failed sit-coms chopped into short segments for an online audience, so she passed. Still, that offer started her thinking about working online. She noticed how people did many of their daily tasks online, such as shopping and banking, and laughed at the idea of people even holding their therapy sessions online. It was an idea so horrible it was funny.
At the time, the idea of a top-rated sitcom star moving to online originals was unheard of. Kudrow said some in Hollywood gave her pity
"'Oh, you're doing a web series. Oh,'" she recalled people saying, putting withering condescension on the second "oh."
"That used to be cable, until they started handing them Emmys," she added.
Kudrow felt she had nothing to lose in creating "Web Therapy."
"Nothing bad could happen if it doesn't work out, but if it does we look like we're very smart," Kudrow said.
After the show was an online success, Kudrow's agent approached her with the idea of including product placement from Lexis. Kudrow thought it was a good fit, and so her character got a stylish new car.
Online programs serve a targeted audience, which helps when brands want to reach that audience. Kudrow said she wouldn't have taken a branding offer that didn't fit the show.
"If it feels pushed, then we don't want to do it," Kudrow said, adding that brands don't want product inclusion to feel pushed, either.
Creating online original programming isn't a get rich quick scheme, but Kudrow said it appeals to talented people who feel frustrated by the studio system. It offers them less money, but more control. For offbeat story ideas, she said, it's easier to shoot an online video and show studios the result than try to describe it.
"We weren't looking to make a lot of money off it, thank God," joked Kudrow. She described how inexpensive online video creation is, compared to Hollywood's standard processes, and how that's good for making innovative shows. "Wherever the stakes are low, you're going to find more innovation," she said.
She also looked to the future of web originals, a model that's only now catching on with a wider audience, and how the style of humor in online shows will change over time.
"I think it's working -- the silly fast-paced stuff -- because that's the audience on the internet," said Kudrow. As the audience matures, so will the humor.