Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” is possibly the best web show out there right now. It would appear that way for obvious reasons: Seinfeld is one of the most popular comedians of our generation and he’s interviewing other comedians. So, it’s funny to the second power. Funny², if you will.
We could sit here and debate the career of Seinfeld (who, thanks to lucrative syndication deals, is now a multimillionaire, mind you, and doesn’t necessarily need to make any more comedy). What I want to try and talk about here is why Seinfeld, and specifically his web presence, could potentially revolutionize web shows.
Web shows have always had a complicated presence. Full disclosure: for a while I was a columnist for a website and I reviewed web series. My gig consisted of watching 5 or 6 series a week, as many episodes of each as I wanted, and then writing reviews of them. Simple as that. The trouble was that after three weeks of this column I was faced with the unbearable truth that a solid 90% of what I was watching was absolutely terrible. Not just bad: terrible.
One week I was tasked with watching a web show called “Annoying Orange.” If you are a parent of a child under the age of 11 you may or may not be familiar with it. It was, to be absolutely and unequivocally honest, one of the single worst things I have seen with my eyes. To call it a poor man’s acid trip nightmare would be a disservice to both acid trips and nightmares. If you want, you may click here and watch some of it. Go ahead.
Funny story: the creator of the series Dane Boedigheimer and several of his friends sent several threatening Twitter and Facebook messages to me after my column ran. You can read the column here. I guess he can’t take bad press. My review of the series was included in the Annoying Orange wikipedia page.
But I digress. I watched a ton of shows. It was pure insanity. Nobody watched any of them. The few that did make it big were only really accepted by fans. “The Guild” was perhaps the biggest web show of 2010. It won several Streamy awards (I should know, I helped write the jokes for the 2010 award shows, which we’ll get to in a minute) and gained critical acclaim. It was, though, kind of a nerdy show. It was about World Of Warcraft. While I’m aware that “nerds are the future” (and they are) you can’t expect to gain mainstream audiences by making a kooky show about dungeons and dragons. Unless you’re HBO, which we’ll get to later, as well.
The thing was, web shows at that point hadn’t at all reached a pressure-cooker moment, shall we say. There was no real reason for someone to legitimately sit down in front of a computer and put a show on the internet and watch a show on the computer. Why? Because the production was crappy. There were no stars. And nobody was taking it seriously.
Let’s talk about The Streamy Awards. I was a writer for that show. It was called one of the worst award shows of the year. The reason being that nobody took it seriously. Marred by technical errors and a few comedians joking about how, yes, nobody is taking internet television seriously, the award show tanked after about 30 minutes. I watched from my balcony seat as Julia Allison refused to finish one of my jokes on stage. I wasn’t mortified (I mean, Julia Allison) but I was concerned; everyone in the audience worked in the internet television industry. And here was everyone too insecure to stand up and take a stand for it.
It reminds me a little of how one sometimes hears the adages “on the small screen” and “on the silver screen” – how one (television) is small and the other (movies) is silver. This implies how people at the time of the adages’ creation thought about the concept of television. They made it the “small” screen. It was “small.” It wasn’t “big” like the movies. People want big. This is America, you fucking hippies. Big is Better and you’re going to fucking love it.
Out of all the names for the genere: internet television, or web shows, or web series, I kinda prefer internet television.
Here ya go. We’re 700 words into this masterpiece and I’m gonna take a Diet Coke break and tell you a little story. See, I was really broke when I wrote all those jokes and that column. Internet writing didn’t exactly pay you a whole lot of money back in 2010, c’est la vie and la di da. Shit, I was working for $9 an hour at a movie theater. Anyway. Fast-forward to 2012. I move to New York City and got a job in the Big Apple at this here publication, Death and Taxes. And you know what I did with my first big paycheck? I paid rent. Then I bought groceries. Then I got a little projector.
The projector connects to my laptop and blasts quite a crisp image on the opposite wall. I can watch Netflix on there, or hell, hardcore pornography or guns blowing up war ships or perhaps a terrible hybrid of the two. The point is is that I suddenly had no need for a television.
Think about it: why pay $300-$1900 for a flatscreen TV and then a further $60-$100 a month for cable?
Ah, but there ya go. The shows. That’s where they get ya. Instead of a nice array of shows to watch on my computer I potentially have to illegally download shows, shows that I love to watch. God knows I can’t watch “The Newsroom” (eh fuck you I like Sorkin) or “Eastbound & Down” without having to resort to Pirate Bay. I’m sorry. But I love the shows. Yes, we could debate the ethics of stealing a show and you would probably win, but you can’t put something that fucking good out there and expect people not to want to have it. I can’t afford a television, nor the upkeep of one. Instead, I bought a projector.
The Daily Show and South Park (of which I, an 18-35 year old male, am in a key demographic for, mind you) both have their shows online. There is also Hulu, of which I am a fan, although it appears that its investors are not. Which is a big fucking shame – Hulu, for a while, was amazing. You’re not going to see giant ad dollars from online advertising because “people don’t watch shows on the internet,” or at least that is what the line has been for the past however many years.
But really. Listen up.
Out there right now is an entire fucking generation of teenagers and children who will become adults and will one day be the television industry’s target market. They, too, will want to see shows. They, too, will not see the merit in dropping a ton of money for 100 channels that you don’t watch and 10 channels that you actually do.
Cable is not a viable model anymore. It is as simple as that. Whatever it fucking takes – send this article around – do whatever you can – let the cable companies know this. There is no reason for anyone to even own a television anymore let alone cable television.
You’re probably wondering why I titled this thing “Why Seinfeld Matters” – I am too. Kidding aside, I want to show you something. I want you to picture yourself in a dark room watching this. Put in headphones, do what you have to do to enjoy this in a room where you have no distractions:
Mel Brooks, ladies and gentlemen! Carl Reiner!
Jerry Seinfeld made a web television show with a 90 year-old man and a 86 year-old man and it provided one of the best ten minutes of film, period, the year. An argument could be made that the presence of three of the greatest comedians of the last fifty years were on screen, and you would be halfway correct, because they are legends.
But what is important about “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” and specifically Jerry Seinfeld in particular is that he is doing internet television.
Think about it this way: this episode was 17 minutes. Two of those and you’ve got a little over a half hour. Imagine a playlist of videos ready for you when you come home from work. Now imagine watching them on your wall in full color projected from your laptop. You get an email, instant message, whatever. Its right there on your screen. Change windows. No more sitting in front of the TV on your laptop eating bon bons (ladies and gentlemen, my first “eating bon bons” reference in print and online—I am officially becoming my mother). You will never need a television ever again.
By the way. The cost of my projector? $270. Less than one fifth of what a 50″ television would cost.
Seinfeld put this together with a shoestring budget and a small team of talented people and it gave some much needed legitimacy to internet television as a whole: here was a major, major star appearing not on the screen that we had fallen in love with him on but appearing on the screen that we carry around with us (iPad), work on (laptops) and carry in our pockets (smart phones). Here was a giant giving away some of his best work for free. For free. Comedian Louis CK gave away his latest special for $5 and became a millionaire in ten days.
It proves that audiences are rabid for quality. And the seemingly infinite amount of stealing/piracy/people-being-people/whatever you want to call “downloading a show” would stop if the television and cable companies actually got their fingers out of their asses and put some money towards producing worthwhile shows.
There will always be a place for movies, too. You know what I watched on that projector the first night I had it? Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Modern Times.” And I can tell you that it looked just as good as it did there on my wall in a dark room as it did on any screen I’ve seen it on. Movies are not dying. Television as an art is not dying. It is simply the medium on which it is shown.
Seinfeld confused a lot of people by making a series online when he could have just made a few more millions doing whatever it is that Seinfeld does when the cameras aren’t rolling, I’m assuming diving into money. He is a rich man. That is now a tired reduction of a very talented performer. The point is that he did it—he made a quality show.
I want to quickly mention Huffington Post Live, the HuffPo vaguely-social internet television carnival. It has iffy numbers right now, mostly because (sorry folks) they let the readers have their say in almost all of the issues. Dude, if I wanted to hear what people on the street had to say, I’d walk outside my front door. If you give the viewer a voice in the performance the performance will suffer. This is a medium for entertainment. It is not dinner theater. Again, I’ve met with the HuffPo Live people and I know a couple of cats who work there. The problem with HuffPo Live is that there isn’t a Chris Matthews or Trevor McDonald there. Nobody is taking it seriously. HuffPo Live seems to think that if the viewer wants to be a part of it they’ll start watching it more. That is wrong. The downfall of modern journalism is the blatant pandering to the viewing public; no more vox populi. Let the people watch a professional, not some other guy sitting in front of a webcam. Nobody gives a shit. And I say that with love. I think in a year or so HPL will figure itself out. Growing pains, y’all. Gotta have ‘em.
Let’s look at Hulu for a second. Here we have a lot of British shows and a few random ones.
Here’s internet television’s biggest portal – Hulu – with a fucking fruit salad of a lineup. Why? Because the investors don’t give a shit about Hulu. Why? Because they’re being told by an industry of people that television is the way to go because of cable and because of the quality of programming.
But Seinfeld, probably THE definitive American television comedy icon of the last 20 years, just made a show about hanging out one of the best things around. Here’s HBO’s Larry David. I mean, hello? This is gold! Why aren’t more people making quality like this?
Because there isn’t any money in it. Yet.
It isn’t so much the question of “when is television going to die” it’s simply the question of “when is this generation going to grow up” because when they do you’re going to see more televisions out on the sidewalk than you will garbage bags. People are already ditching cable in record numbers and cable companies, which essentially (and I’m completely paraphrasing a more complex issue here) pay the channels, which in turn give you great content.
So the question remains: when are people going to put more money into it? When are people who make decisions – who are most likely pushing 40 or 50 or 60 and can’t understand a world without themselves because which carriage maker could ever fathom an automobile – when are they going to help themselves by helping us and take a risk and put more money into internet television?
Seinfeld is showing you a door right now that you should walk through because pretty soon the whole building is going to come down.
That is why Seinfeld still matters.