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It's hard to make your mark in 180 seconds

Bite-size Internet TV series may not endure for long, but their best traits certainly will.

October 01, 2008|David Sarno and Mario Russo | Times Staff Writers

Over the last half-decade, enterprising Web auteurs have created -- and we're ballparking, but this feels right -- hundreds of original Internet TV series. There are production companies that churn them out, websites that warehouse them, and vast armies of amateurs who own a camera and aren't afraid to use it.

But from that crowded landscape of Web TV shows, who among us can name more than, we don't know, two? Even the standouts -- "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," "Pink," "You Suck at Photoshop" -- fade quick: When an entire season of a Web show adds up to fewer minutes than one episode of "True Blood," the chance to make a lasting impression is fleeting indeed.

As time drags on and the genre remains chronically hitless, it's fair to ask if perhaps the bite-size Web show is media's version of Australopithecus afarensis, the short-lived hominid species that died off 3 million years ago to make way for humans.

So in 30 years, when Google archaeologists are exploring the era when television mated with the Internet, maybe they'll dig up the digital fossils of these shows and have a quick laugh.

Which is not to say there's nothing good in Web TV -- only that the genre itself might have evolved a little awkwardly. Its stumpy three-minute duration may simply be too short for it to survive. Still, some of the webisodes' best traits will be no doubt be passed along on to future generations of this theoretical Intervision. And other traits won't.

Double the fun with Sklar twins

Comedians Randy and Jason Sklar, the identical twin brothers who hosted ESPN's sports comedy show "Cheap Seats," are on their second Web series. "Back on Topps" is the story of Leyland and Leif Topps, baseball-card heirs whose father sold the ailing company out from under them. Threatened by an evil CEO, the Topps brothers are forced to come up with ever more hare-brained promotional schemes or face termination.

The show is the latest from Michael Eisner's Tornante Co., which has produced a string of hyped Web series, starting with "Prom Queen" -- and "Back on Topps" shows that Eisner is getting better at picking winners.

It so happens that Eisner owns the real Topps and that the branding of this series is part of his strategy to turn the card company into a media company. And Topps, it appears, has plenty to offer in terms of Web entertainment. The company used its sports connections to arrange for an endless parade of famous athletes to stop through "Back on Topps" for cameos.

Dodgers Andre Ethier and Russell Martin show up to be photographed by an artsy photographer as part of the brothers' Avante Card series. Jordan Farmar submits to an interview on the Topps' experimental and ill-fated talk show "60 Seconds." And former UCLA center Kevin Love can be seen around the office changing lightbulbs (without a ladder).

The legitimately funny "Back on Topps" has adopted the manic, every-line's-a-joke feel of shows like "Arrested Development" and "30 Rock" as a way to keep attention-challenged Web watchers interested.

"If you just take the episode to a different place from where it started, and you tell one story well," said Randy Sklar, "your viewers will be really happy."

"That and if you can get two or three or four really big laughs in a couple minutes," added Jason.

"We wanted the pacing to be kind of '30 Rock'-esque and to have some of the corporate versus human element," said Randy. "Fast pace, interesting cutaways, funny music -- all those things are things we love and wanted to incorporate into the show."

Shoes, guys and gadgets

As a plugged-in tech world personality -- she Twitters, she blogs, she gets photographed at industry functions -- Julia Allison has come to symbolize "Internet microcelebrity," the condition of being extremely well known within a limited group of people (in Allison's case, her blog gets about 30,000 page views a day, and about 3,000 people have made the more serious commitment to following her moment-to-moment activities via her Twitter feed). When Wired did a cover story in August on Allison and how she's engineered her singular kind of fame, some expressed outrage that the magazine was even paying attention. ("Julia Allison is a terrible example of self-promotion, a warning of the missteps of public relations . . . WIRED ought to be ashamed," as one blog put it.)

And so the natural next step is her own Web series, which launches today and is called "TMI Weekly." But before you accuse her of being a social media climber, Allison swears she's not in the market for a TV deal. On the phone Tuesday, the New York-based Allison insisted that the three-minute talk show was not some kind of steppingstone to Hollywood. "I've done TV," Allison said on a conference call with her co-hosts and friends Meghan Asha and Mary Rambin. "I did 400 segments over the last year and a half on every major network. But I get so much more out of this! I can say what I really think."

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