Recently, there has been a great deal of conversation surrounding the rise of online dramas and comedies such as Brothers With No Game. The TV Collective asked the question whether online was the way forward for diverse content, while The Guardian wrote a piece about young writers and directors who have taken to web serials in order to tell their stories their own way.
Well, E4's new show 'The Midnight Beast' is an example of a how web series that gained a huge following online made the transition to television. Perhaps we will see even more of this happening, especially in regards to diverse talent and stories.
If you haven't heard of The Midnight Beast, then their new six-part sitcom on E4 might not immediately stand out as new or different: a group of musicians, living in a grotty flat, trying to get their foot in the door at the music industry. Music skits. Comedy bits. Wacky characters etc, etc.
If, however, you are familiar with The Midnight Beast then their new show is perhaps more of a big deal. Their parody videos and songs with a quirky take on youth culture have seen them wrack up 40m views on YouTube, a sold-out tour and a book deal. So why have Dru Wakely, Stefan Abingdon and Ashley Horne decided to jump from the internet to television? What will E4 add to the show? And most importantly, will it work?
"It isn't about wanting to get a new audience, obviously it would be great to get one but the one we've got is brilliant though," Abingdon says. The reason he is happy for The Midnight Beast to make the transition is because he believes that television provides something that the internet still cannot replicate. "Just the fact that we can be in people's living rooms is amazing, but suddenly you are at the next stage. They might not want it in their living room … then they'll hate our faces!"
For Nerys Evans, Channel 4's commissioning editor for comedy, The Midnight Beast are a perfect fit for E4's target audience. After being sent a link to the band's work on YouTube she then met them in person. "They said: 'Come and see us do a gig' and I said 'Alright then,' like someone's mum going to a concert, so I went to Koko [in London’s Camden Town] and it kind of blew my mind."
But can you really take something that is only a few minutes long and expand it to a full half-hour? Not all web shorts that have been transferred to TV have taken off in a big way. The Onion News Network's satirical news shorts are immensely popular, so putting together two-minute videos to create a half hour fake TV news broadcast seemed logical. However, while the first couple of episodes felt exciting and new, after a while it became evident that the show could not give the same punch in a 30-minute show as a two-minute video. The show was cancelled earlier this year. Perhaps waiting for the next video to come out or flicking between videos at your own pace gives the comedy some breathing space.
So what is interesting about TMB is that even though three music numbers are being shown in the episode each week, they are being wrapped around parts of the storyline, in the same way as music numbers are used in episodes of Glee or Flight of the Conchords. To make it work, the characters are based on their personas from their YouTube videos. It was important that TMB don't ignore their YouTube heritage, says Evans. "They are sort of self-starters and that's the joy of it – not to break that, to really kind of capture that handmadeness and not make it look all slick and brilliant and keep it as real to them as possible, without making it like telly had broken it."
So are we likely to see a future where popular filmmakers are increasingly taken from YouTube and put on television? "I don't think we see ourselves as being you know, the 'trendsetters' and being the first to do anything," says Wakely. "We just moved at a kind of what we felt was a sort of natural pace."
Having an entire production team with you, however, must be markedly different from the way TMB initially approached their videos. Moving successful filmmakers over to television can be difficult, admits Evans. "Obviously it is a brilliant thing if you can capture it but it is like living in a bottle in a way: you can break it and it is very rare to transfer."
The band say they are confident about the switch from YouTube to television. "In some respects we were a little worried at first that we could just end up being pushed away, and once we'd done our bit that was kind of it, but even up to the editing process we were very much involved," said Wakely.
The Midnight Beast – Thursdays, 10pm E4