Morgan Spurlock Gets Connected on AOL

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As the co-owner of a trendy Ping-Pong parlor and social club, Bricklin attracts famous friends. Spurlock thought it would be interesting to record Bricklin's life as he published a book. The celebrity angle happened almost by accident.

"A friend of mine said 'Why don't you ask Jonathan?,' Spurlock recalls. "I was like, 'That's a great idea.' It was one of those where it was right in front of my face and we had not even thought about asking him. I knew he was in the middle of writing a book that he was about to publish, and I said ‘This is an incredible thing.’ He had concerns because ultimately he had never wanted to kind of be in the forefront. He was somebody who always wanted to do his own thing on the side. He was happy being invisible and didn't want a lot of attention, but I think he is a fascinating guy."

With Connected's filming taking six months, Bricklin and Sarandon had to decide how they were going to manage that.

"We spoke to [Sarandon] about what we were doing and why we wanted Jonathan and why that mattered," Spurlock recalled. "Jonathan was like, 'Well you are part of my life I am not going to not be with you or not be with you while this is happening,' so I think we were fortunate."

Serving Engaged Viewers

For AOL, this move to adding long-form programming to its offerings is part of a plan that Dermot McCormack calls "platform agnostic, but platform aware." Trends show that living room and mobile device viewing are growing quickly, so AOL wants to have longer offerings to provide a lean-back experience. It's the next logical step, he believes.

"We know that consumers consume video content across all devices and we don't want to just make one type of content," McCormack explained. "We want to make content that if it's 7 p.m. and you are on your Samsung connected TV we have a longer-form offering; if you are on your mobile device we can give you shorter form offerings; and if you are on a desktop you are in the middle."

Even though McCormack inherited Connected, rather than greenlighting it from the start, he's glad that it fell into his lap. He thinks this could be the moment when actual reality programming, rather than scripted reality, breaks through. The audience is weary of reality shows that are more scripted than scripted shows, and is ready for something fresh and honest. The timing is right, he believes, for AOL to have a Nirvana moment.

"I am likening it to the 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' moment in music where Nirvana played those chords and everybody in spandex and long hair on Sunset Boulevard felt weird," McCormack said. "I feel it's that moment and hopefully Connected will be the show. If not, you know, you will definitely see some shows that will take advantage of the fact that we have wrung out all the character and story lines and narrative and now it is just spectacle, and I think we can restore some character and storylines into this about real human beings."

While McCormack will measure the show's success or failure in terms of cross-screen viewership, engagement, and how it reflects on AOL's original program lineup, Spurlock is looking for something more intangible. He wants people to watch the show and begin to make connections of their own.

"I think that what happens is that you start to realize that people's lives are connected in ways we don't think. It is not forced upon [the viewer] as in reality shows where suddenly people are sitting and having lunch together. That's like, 'You guys don't even know each other. How are you suddenly sitting around talking to one another?' That is not what is happening," Spurlock said. "But what you do see is through the things that happen in my life or your life or their lives we are all connected in a very meaningful way."

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