Saturday, December 5, 2009

GOTHAM & VENCE: The Future of Soaps?

We have now seen the premiere episodes of GOTHAM and VENICE, the two most highly anticipated web soaps ever. It's too soon to judge whether these shows will last or to know how they will improve and grow over time, but there is much to be excited about. Based on the debuts, I will look at some constructive criticism for each, the positives we saw, and the outlook for the future.

GOTHAM's premiere was too short. On one hand, leaving fans wanting more is a good thing but you have to be sure to capture their imagination. There was almost too many clues packed into three and a half minutes. Technically the show mixed stock footage with new footage and the two didn't mesh well. As a logo and opening theme fan of television and web shows, seeing a different logo than what appears on the website threw me off. Finally, New York City is the greatest place on earth in my opinion and I would have loved to have seen Martha Byrne, Michael Park and Anne Sayre walking the streets of Gotham.

As for VENICE, the show went the opposite direction. I would have actually preferred a bit more in terms of story set up. One fear I had for VENICE was sound because I have some experience with sound issues and I've shot footage on Venice Beach and understand the problems. In the outdoor scenes there were definitely some moments that additional sound correction could have helped. I'll have to see it play out but I didn't feel any chemistry between Crystal Chappell and Galen Gering as siblings. The reactions from Owen fell flat and it was hard not to imagine how much more subtext Daniel Cosgrove or Jeff Branson (the original actors cast in the role) would have played. The opening scene was a big payoff for Otalia fans but I would have held onto that kiss until the end and made viewers wait for the second episode to see the reaction. Finally, with all the hype there is no excuse for the show's website being down at 11 p.m. ET when the show was to debut. Fans had to realize that they could watch on YouTube. When the show moves to a subscription model for the next episode this must be fixed.

GOTHAM was so full of clues that you had to watch several times to try and catch them all. In other words, I'm very intrigued. Why was Richard sniffing that cup? Who is Rachel? Who were the people on Richard's voice mail? What is the relationship between Richard and Catherine? The show set up many interesting possibilities for the future. The footage shot by the show looked terrific. I liked the way the intro was done mixing street footage, the GOTHAM characters and the credits. The show left us with a cliffhanger. Finally, LaMont Craig's Jayqui. I have read some complaints about the character being a "gay stereotype" but I know several people like this character and I'm happy to see an underrepresented character on television and film get some airtime.

What can I say about the VENICE debut? There has never been a more hyped web series that I can ever remember. The show was absolutely beautiful. They didn't just tell us they were on Venice Beach, they showed us with stunning scenery. I loved the way the show opened. The credits looked terrific. The musical choices were outstanding. Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia still have it - chemistry that is. I could see them both as new characters (versus their GUIDING LIGHT characters) and my interest was piqued enough to want to find out how their relationship will play out. I was also satisfied with the editing choices and thought the overall look of the show was top notch.

GOTHAM seems to be taking a path we've seen before. The show is putting out its product and trying to attract sponsors. VENICE aired the first episode for free and will now charge $9.99 for the rest of the season (11 more episodes plus behind the scenes footage). Either of these ways could work or both could work. For the sake of the soap opera, I hope they both find a profitable and sustainable business model.

Both of these shows have announced several exciting casting choices for future episodes so that alone is a lot to be excited about. Kin Shriner, Lisa Peluso, Gina Tognoni, Jordan Clarke, Maeve Kinkead, Hillary B. Smith, and many more will bring their talents to these indie web soaps.

I highly suspect the production values are only going to improve with each episode and each season and, to be honest, they already look as good or better than what we get on daytime television.

The biggest reason why I am excited, and encourage any soap fan to not only check these shows out but invest in them and give them a chance, is because the people behind them really care. I have said for years that Martha Byrne should be running a soap and now she is. She knows what fans want and what she's doing. GOTHAM director/writer Lisa Brown is a visionary and understands the genre and the fan experience. VENICE producer Crystal Chappell could not care more about presenting this diverse show in the most respectful and realistic manner. Writer Kim Turrisi has poured her heart and soul into the characters and I believe we'll see that play out on our computer screens.

As with any new show there are things that can be improved and I'm confident they will be. But how exciting is it in December 2009, after a year of doom and gloom "soaps are dead" press, to have not one, but two new soaps to be excited about? Support the indie soap revolution!


  1. Just absolutely brilliantly talented folks heading up Venice & Gotham, all the people writing, directing, acting, producing. Just brilliant. Can't WAIT to see how this plays out with the Emmys next year. :)

    Watch out Imaginary Bitches, you've got serious competition. :)

    Best wishes to all. Really excited. Can't tell you how many times I've already watched Venice premiere since last night. :)

  2. I loved Venice I didn't care for Gotham it looked like a bunch of rich folks that I can't relate to. Venice was more real and centered on relationships I have already paid my subscription for Venice but I will pass on Gotham

  3. Roger, I for one have been so thankful for your bringing my attention to the world of web soaps - I had hoped more online soap sites would be up on the "indie" soap thing, but yours is the only site with a dedicated section...and as a result i've found the best discussion/commentary here.

    Also glad to see there's ample tough love within your review. As much as I appreciated what it took to get both these series up and running, this is a medium which by its nature/audience needs to evolve & adapt quickly. I know a lot of momentum got blown for Venice with the server problems for which I was both frustrated (though not that frustrated because the youtube channel went up at 8pm exactly!). But certainly not everyone figured it out, and it probably lost them some potential viewers.

    As Otalia fans we got more in that 60 secs that we probably could have imagined, particularly after all the countless letters, emails and calls to TPTB...and for that alone it felt huge. Yes, the eps are too short, but they're doing something right if they feel too short. If it leaves us clamoring for more...well, they're onto something.

    As an aside, I watched 4 network soaps friday (not usual mind you, i had a sick day!). In comparing the genres, I am appreciating the brevity/density of the web soaps, and not missing the dialogue/storyline re-iteration that plague many daytime soaps; maybe less time will allow us to finally get rid of so much structural detris and just let us enjoy some pure unadulterated drama.

    All in all I'm kinda in love with this new wave of storytelling.

  4. I'm really root for all the web soaps because I think there is strength in numbers.

    La, great point about the brevity. I've heard some fans say they want a 30 minute show or longer but soaps didn't start that long and over time developed ways to repeat dialogue and have characters talk about storylines to fill time and catch people up. I actually like shorter episodes with less of that. As long as we can get some "moments" between key characters I am happy. Because in an hour each day how many truly great moments are we seeing consistently?

  5. I have to say, I like many many others have waited a long time to see REAL. And we got it last night. I think Crystal, Kimmy and Hope along with countless others have conceived and produced an amazing thing. I believe the bar has been raised and I for one am very grateful.
    I will have to take one exception with regard to your comment about Galen. I believe as we have seen in the promo that Galen does have a chemistry with Crystal and we will see that play in coming episodes.
    Overall and without question. Amazing Stellar writing, directing, editing and of course, Acting!
    Thanks ladies for listening to your fans. Means more than you know.
    Oh yea, you were right. The music ROCKED!

  6. Based on Gotham episode one's achievement of 8K views, I don't see how it can continue beyond season one.

    Earlier this week, WLS posted an article about an ultra cheap web show achieving 2 million hits on an episode. The show features a web comic, Shane Dawson.

  7. I've now seen both premieres and Gotham was a little too short and frenetic for my tastes while Venice hit all the right notes to hook me into future episodes. Having the JL/CC kissing scene up front I believe was necessary to send a message out loud and clear that this is gonna be different from what you see on tv. We got a payoff of much that remained unexplored with Otalia and moved right along into the Gina/Ani dynamic and dysfunction. Brilliant execution. If they can make their website work properly more often than not, I can't imagine it won't generate at least a season 2. Took me quite a few tries to subscribe but I'm aboard for the ride.

  8. I think the difficulty Gotham faces is generating publicity and excitement that translates to viewers. For the show to make an impact, it has receive, I'd guess, at least 500,000 views.

    I'll be interested in seeing how many people make the jump from free viewers to subscribers of Venice.

    The only dramatic web series that made it to TV is the SyFy Channel's "Sanctuary." I think that show made the transition on the strength of the webisodes and the deep connection its lead star, Amanda Tapping, has with the science fiction fans and network execs because of her 11 years on the Stargate shows.

  9. Testablog, I think there is a resistance from even soap fans to check out web soaps so selling them beyond that audience is even tougher. I do if a series like this could come up with a great business model and then air it a few times a week, 5-6 minutes is enough airtime. Of course I'd love more, but I think the hour soaps are bloated and are never consistently entertaining. With a shorter format you can focus on what is really working (hopefully).

    I also think the budgets for the daytime soaps are VERY bloated, despite hearing how they've been reduced. You can see what is possible for very little money with these web shows. And while they can't produce them forever with little income, they have proven it can be done cheaper and in some ways better than their TV counterparts.

  10. I liked both Gotham and Venice. I do wish episodes were at least 10 minutes though. My problem with Venice is the website. I actually subscribed twice and the website still continues to ask me to subscribe instead of allowing me to see the bonus videos. It is very frustrating to read how some people have seen and loved the extras and I can't even get on the site half the time when I try. I am concerned this won't be fixed by next week and I won't be allowed to watch the next episode. Please Please get this fixed.

  11. I loved Gotham, and I really excited about it because I'm a huge ATWT fan. I even bought something from the store to help support it.

    As for Venice, I stopped watching GL years ago so I'm not an Otalia fan. I definitely got swept into the excitement by it because I got so hyped about Gotham and web series in general. So I was going to give Venice a shot. But finding out that there was gonna be $9.99 subscription threw me off in not a good way (keep in mind I had no idea that this was floated beforehand in a poll on the Venice website). But as a casual viewer, I knew that I wasn't going to pay for a series that I'm not totally stoked about. I would watch it if was free on youtube, but I wouldn't pay for it.

  12. I need to see more of Gotham, but I have a lot of respect for the people involved in it, and I like the way they've been very professional, every step of the way. I have high hopes for this project.

    The fact that the Venice project has been run in such an unprofessional way is a worry to me, especially since they're charging money for subscriptions. Asking people to pay is fair enough, but not when there's no guarantee the server won't keep crashing.

    I'm really anxious to see how Empire shapes up. Those guys did a whole season without a single big name attached to the project and almost no promotion. There were some issues but, overall, they showed it was possible to tell a story in this format.

  13. Roger,

    I disagree. I prefer the hour soaps. You're missing out on what has been the success of many cable networks: hour-long dramas, most of them serials. From True Blood, Burn Notice, etc., the hour format for dramas works best.

    I actually watch my CBS soaps at I know a lot of younger people watch feature-length movies online, too.

    Think about the success of Hulu. People don't mind watching longer programs online, especially now that it's fairly easy to run an HDMI cable from computer to 32-inch+ flatscreen.

    I find 5 or 6 minutes not that fulfilling.

  14. TestaBlog, for an hour drama in primetime especially cable, the hour makes sense. For daytime soaps, most of the writers/producers never wanted to expand beyond 30 minutes. Susan Flannery talks about that in our current interview. Many started at 15 and then expanded to 30 and then an hour. GL was on 31 years before it even expanded to 30 minutes.

    I'd love to see about 15 minutes, as long as it's something that airs regularly, like a daily show. I guess I'm looking for a replacement (or new additional content) for the daily soaps. If we're talking about a once a week show, then I agree that you need a bit more. I think many of these shows would like to air more but it has to make financial sense before they can expand.

  15. I agree with testablog. They are too damn short to be any competition to the daytime soaps. Did the radio soaps come on everyday? If they did then it is still more that 6 minutes every week or every other week and if it didn't it is still more than 6 minutes every week.

    I hope the webseries do well but why do they have to be competition with the daytime soaps? I love my daytime soaps and I don't want them dissapearing and becoming 6 minute soaps that you watch once a week.

  16. I absolutely trust Martha Byrne as a creative force. Aesthetically, Gotham wasn't as impressive as Venice. The teaser wasn't quite long enough either, but I'm definitely intrigued to see more. Gotham seemed to create a clearer picture of a fictional "world" (with related characters, teasers of different plot points and so on) in its three minutes moreso than Venice, which focused more on the core relationship. I enjoyed the visual elements of Venice and the chemistry among the two lead characters, and I have to say it's nice for fans to see such intimacy among these women, but I felt like I would've rather seen the opening stages for more character development/plot/dialogue/etc.

    Even during the three daytime soaps I semi-regularly watch, I tend to lose interest during certain patches of the show. I can see a 20-30 minute program, in 2-3 installments per week, as an acceptable length of time to generate interest in the action and develop the main characters. At least with these two web soaps, the talent isn't going to be an issue. It's all a question of resources.

  17. Roger,

    B&B is the only 30 minute soap, and it's always felt claustrophobic for me. The shorter time limits the cast, and, I wonder, might be one of the reasons for the constant faux-incest.

    As a fall back, I'd take 30 minutes rather no minutes for a daily soap.

    I find that I don't watch a lot of primetime TV since NBC disastrously nuked its 10/9PM dramas for the awful Jay Leno mess. Instead, I timeshift my soaps and watch them at night or the wknds.

  18. I watched Gotham but felt no connection what so ever. I was confused and I didn't think the acting was very good. Just my opinion. Venice however pulled me right in not only the characters but the way it was filmed. I've already paid for subscription and can't wait for Friday ep 2.