"Convergence" is the buzzword for Ted Turner's Cartoon Network, which recently announced it will launch a new venue for interactive animation on the Web in December. Animation on the Web is also the mandate at Nucleus Interactive in Brentwood, a start-up company offering to produce pilots "at one-third the cost" for would-be animators, who could then shop the project around town.
For now, though, there is still a pervasive mistrust and skepticism among many in the TV industry toward the fictional material that begins life online. Yes, there are talented people doing creative things on the Web, TV executives say, but how much of it can actually translate to a mass audience?
"Most people on our side of the business tend to be afraid of it and discount it," said Bill Sanders, executive vice president at Big Ticket Television, which produces the syndicated series "Judge Judy" and "Judge Joe Brown." "It's a niche area and doesn't play to the broad array of people broadcast TV needs to play to."
Nor do executives necessarily believe that a Web site that has a lot of "hits" (i.e. visitors) will by definition have a large amount of TV viewers.
"There's still a huge difference [between] browsing something on the Web and watching a show every week," said Chris Albrecht, head of original programming at HBO. "The only way we can look at it constructively is if it's a good idea for HBO. If it then also happens to be a successful Web site, that's a good bonus."
Even Morton, who is developing http://www.breakupgirl.com, acknowledged: "I don't think the Web is conducive to the development of fiction television."
Web Sites Dedicated to TV Shows Improving
For years now, TV series have had Web sites devoted to die-hard fans, who with the click of a mouse can get episode guides, cast bios and go into chat rooms to discuss the series with other fans. Many sites, however, have long been glorified billboards for the shows--updated irregularly and thus relatively cheap to maintain.
But interactivity with the characters and programming-like features now distinguish the better sites.
On the Web site for WB's teen hit "Dawson's Creek," for instance, fans can go into "Dawson's Desktop" and exchange messages with the show's main character. And then there's "Homicide: Second Shift," NBC's 2-year-old online spinoff of its drama series "Homicide: Life on the Street." Three original stories have premiered online in the last year, with their own cast, a 3-D squad room and a role-playing game. The network is now doing similar crossover with another series, "Profiler."
Though he couldn't get his cybersoap "The Spot" on television, co-creator Zakarin can still envision a day when a TV series and its Internet counterpart exist on equal footing, where plot points are introduced on television and resolved on the Web, where viewers can virtually climb into the worlds of their favorite TV shows.
Fox TV Studios' Grant, however, is more doubtful. The Web, he says, is the ultimate talent showcase, but who has time to wade through the 2 million bad acts?