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August 25 2008

More New York Times fun with Dr. Horrible. Thesis: Web serials kinda suck. Problem: Dr. Horrible didn't. Solution: Ease Dr. H out of the category.

"iTunes is the only place you can see Dr. Horrible." Emphasis in original, with mistake.

"The Guild" gets a mention, but not its lack of suckiness.

"Television maharishi"? Is that the the long-lost synonym for Geek Guru? Sounds a bit like "TV preacher."

I'm mainly intrigued by the Cocteau quote in the article. I think I've come across it before, and it's certainly a pretty interesting idea. Digital filming has certainly greatly lowered the bar on the expenses involved in filming. Although I'm not a big fan of the idea of questioning film artistic merits just because economics comes into the equation. That just sounds like another way of approaching auteur theory, and I've never been comfortable with the idea that film (or television) is somehow only successful when there's just a single artistic vision, or that it can only be artistically successful if there's just one vision. I may be an acolyte of Joss Whedon, but I have to acknowledge the roles that the rest of the Mutant Enemy staff played in shaping Buffy.

Sorry, that ended up going in an entirely off-topic direction.
Pointy, I have no idea where you got that conclusion. There wasn't any attempt to "ease" Dr. Horrible out of any category. The author simply commented that iTunes is the only place you can see Dr. Horrible...a "fact" which is absolutely untrue, granted, and further confirms my suspicions that the Gray Lady is sliding downhill. But all the article is saying along those lines is that Dr. Horrible is a lot better than the vast majority of the Web serials you can find, both in terms of content and production value. Which, well, duh.

[ETA: Just to make it clear: the duh is directed at the article's author, not at Pointy.]

[ edited by BAFfler on 2008-08-25 14:02 ]
Two other things: She writes that being exclusively on iTunes "exempt[ed] it from the view-based rating system." Actually, the huge number of views it got when it debuted were the reason it made a big splash. The server-humbling numbers constituted the splash. She also casts doubt on it belonging to the web serial category when she writes "What makes it Web-specific, I guess, [is] that it's a little weird . . ." But what makes it web-specific is that it was designed to be watched in serial form on the web.

What fascinates/irks me about media analyses is how facts tend to be fitted to theses instead of theses being expanded (or discarded) in light of inconvenient facts.
... a "fact" which is absolutely untrue, granted ...

Well, it's untrue if you're in America (and obey the law) anyway ;).

But what makes it web-specific is that it was designed to be watched in serial form on the web.

We've talked about this before but what specifically makes it designed to be watched in serial form, with a substantial gap in-between ? Why couldn't the three acts appear one after another with ad breaks just like on TV ? Outside the text, sure, JJZM were presumably trying for (as Warren Ellis put it) "appointment internet" but the actual show itself doesn't seem like it has to be delivered that way at all.

I just didn't get that "easing out" vibe and i'm maybe over-sensitive to it as a sci-fi fan ("they" are always doing it to us, the buggers ;) - the previous paragraph was clearly talking about web serials and then the one on Dr H starts "Not until recently, at least." i.e. clearly tying it into the subject of the previous paragraph.

And I kind of get where she's coming from in that professionally produced web serials are quite often just like TV only on the web and sometimes it's cool to see totally daft stuff that wouldn't make it to TV in a million years (or maybe only on those "TV's Funniest TV" type shows ;). Seems like it might be hard to attract big name writer/actor/directors to that sort of thing though, just because it's so hit and miss.
I find it very interesting that this NYT article describes the production values as being as good as anything on the networks, while the previous NYT article thought anything but.
Well, different people sometimes have different opinions (which is interesting, I agree ;).
I think the big difference between seeing all three acts in one sitting and having them spread out by a few days is that having a couple of days between encouraged genre expectations and increased the emotional impact of At III's thwarting of expectations.

Acts I and II could be viewed as simple inversions of the superhero/supervillain conflict, with the good guy being bad and the bad guy being better. Dr. Horrible had a fan base cheering him on by the time Act III aired, so Act III was a bigger challenge to expectations. Penny had a fan base by then too, so I think her death had a bigger impact than it would have if it had occurred less than an hour after we'd met her.

Act III brought out the tragedy underlying the comedy and challenged the viewer to rethink everything that had gone before -- a challenge that might have been easier to avoid if expectations had not had time to set. (I blogged a bit about this here.)
I'm sorry, but the NYT just keeps on affirming my reasons for not ever picking up another copy of its newspaper. Research Research RESEARCH, people!! If Dr. Horrible was so important to the goal of the article itself, why not include the fact that it was available via website and Hulu, not just iTunes? I think she misses the point in that not only are web serials potentially very well-produced, but they're FREE. YouTube sustains itself by maintaining the mantra that content is free for all to enjoy. That's also the basis for Dr. Horrible. Sure it's for sale on iTunes, but isn't that a small, small portion to pay when thousands streamed it on Hulu (which can likely track what gets streamed when, btw) and count the unique hits on the Dr. Horrible website?

And since when is "old" sci-fi "Stargate" and "New Amsterdam"? Old style? Classic tried and true exploration, aliens and....a man who is under a Native American spell and has lived and not aged for hundreds of years? What? It's like she just pulled what she thought was a good example off tvguide.com.

Another problem I had with the article is that it's initial foray into political videos was such a blatant attempt to overstate what's already been established, for no reason at all. Yes, Obama loves his online clips. Yes, overall the Democrats are more web savvy than the Conservatives. Whatever. Edwards had an affair with a web videographer...yeah, okay, and if she had been a pastry chef, we'd be casting wide eyes at the kitchen all the time. But this piece is ultimately about online serials as an entertainment format...and the political stuff gets in the way when the writer begins talking about quarterlife, and in the meantime, never explaining WHY these shows fell apart, or never made it off the ground.

And one of the most time-relevant pieces of information of all is Gemini, the web serial with Rosario Dawson. A real web serial that's starring a "big name" should've been on the radar. Dr. Horrible and Gemini are only the beginning of reliable production, real costs, real actors people recognize, doing web. The writer totally missed this implication.

[ edited by CaffeinatedSquint on 2008-08-25 15:08 ]
I'm not actually seeing the problem with this article. It got have been a little bit better researched but then you could say that about most things online these days.

Personally I see Dr. Horrible as a web event rather than a web serial.
(I blogged a bit about this here.)

Nice essay Pointy (don't agree with all of it but it's well put).

OK, accepting your "gestation" comments (and i'm not sure I do*) why is that different to e.g. a two-parter on Buffy (or a three-parter if there were any) ? The only difference I can see is it's a one-off story told with original characters and on US TV, a short form one-off story seems to have no place (could be wrong, I be forrun ;). But regards the story itself, it's not one that couldn't be told in any serial format.

* because the gestation period is only relevant if, like us, you watch it over and over, think about it and discuss it in between episodes, otherwise you're not giving it enough head-time to develop any more affection for Penny/Billy etc. as if you'd watched them back to back. In that sense it's more like it's specifically designed for very dedicated fans, the delivery medium is irrelevant IMO. I watched Buffy from the off for instance but was never into the fandom until after it finished, so the episodes were probably less intense for me, having missed the discussions, arguments etc. than for someone that came straight onto the forums after each episode and had protracted days long debates about key points. Still the same show though.
It's not that it couldn't be told any other way, Saje, I don't think, but that it was told best with some space in between the acts -- enough time for people to choose sides, pro-Dr. H and anti Capt.-H. Buffy could be told as a series of 12-episode marathons. And would probably be the best multi-marathon series ever. But I think it got a lot of its power from the way we got used, over time, to the relationships of certain characters to one another, which then made it more interesting and moving when those relationships changed/broke.

And I think Joss's stuff encourages the audience to question everything we see, because a lot of the entertainment is in the setting up and thwarting of genre expectations -- IOW, the fun is in the thinking about it. Since you can't enjoy the story without enjoying the making and breaking of genre expectations, I think it encourages questioning even by people who've never heard of The Family Whedon. But we obsessives do it more :D

And thank you for your kind words about my essay!

ETA punctuation! (Have to go make a living for a few hours -- have fun!)

[ edited by Pointy on 2008-08-25 15:58 ]
I'll be interested to see if the DVD has the act breaks, or is just a continuous film.
I've been meaning to ask, what's up with Dr Horrible not being available to the whole world on Hulu anymore? I thought it was supposed to be the way to international peeps to get to it while they wait for it to be available for sale one way or another...
I just feel like it's dismissive of fans. All the stuff about 'obedient and obsessive' people only watching Battlestar Galactica serials because we're not 'able to stand the hiatus'. Nothing about the serials expanding the universe, or that they're just fun to watch. By brushing aside the fans, the author is brushing aside what I think is part of the appeal of these web serials - the more direct contact between the creative minds and the people who are really interested in being entertained by them.

Also, 70's pop musical? Really?
ETA: And also, how does its supposed weirdness make it web-specific? Call me crazy, but I thought the fact that it first aired on the internet made it web-specific.

[ edited by Green Queen on 2008-08-25 18:16 ]
joey, I don't think the lack of international streaming thing is deliberate - I suspect it's down to Hulu getting it wrong.

The version of Horrible I've seen on HD DVD (1080p, peeps!) has 'Act Two' (and three) on the screen, but no 'Dr Horrible' logo & music at the beginning of acts 2 + 3. Obviously, I've no idea if it'll get released like that.

[ edited by gossi on 2008-08-25 16:36 ]
The version of Horrible I've seen on HD DVD (1080p, peeps!) has 'Act Two' (and three) on the screen, but no 'Dr Horrible' logo & music at the beginning of acts 2 + 3.

Exactly how it was screened at Comic-Con.
The thing I don't get in this article is why $1.99 is considered "cruel." People pay more than that for a cup of coffee, but this lasts a lot longer, won't stain your teeth, and you can see it again and again.
Thank you Meltha! I was thinking the same thing!
I'm with Green Queen on this one. The thing that bugs me about these types of articles isn't that they are dismissive of the work itself (although they are), it's that they are dismissive of the fans who watch them. Writers like this assume that anyone who would watch the online content of a show like BSG do so simply because they are mindless zombies with no lives.
I would also like to point out that trying to determine how many people watched web content based on the number of "views" is about as futile as trying to determine the number of people who watched a TV show based on the Nielsen rating system. Both are probably equally deceptive (in different ways) yet that doesn't stop advertisers and the networks from basing the success of a TV show on its nebulous ratings. I don't see how the number of times a web serial is watched is less helpful to advertisers.
And I didn't get "It's a '70s pop musical" -- did the writer think Joss was channeling Sid & Marty Krofft?
Writers like this assume that anyone who would watch the online content of a show like BSG do so simply because they are mindless zombies with no lives.


Yeah, its eerie... almost like they know us. ZING! KIDDING... 360% joking. These articles are always so filled with generalizations and exaggerations and stereotypes as to put off those 'in the know'.
That sort of disparaging of genre fans in the mainstream media is so common I actually barely notice it anymore, guess i've become an "institution man" (maybe i'll very publicly alphabetise my Star Wars figures so they send me back to Obsessive Geeksville - err, can anybody lend me some Star Wars figures ? ;).
I'll try to borrow some specifically to lend to you ;).
I think the most ridiculous aspect of the dismissal of fans and of the work itself is the fact that as soon as someone "cool" comes along, whether it be a celebrity or someone wealthy or respected by the NYT, nothing will be said if he or she happens to be a fan of a sci-fi show. Nothing. Like it's okay for non-sci-fi people to judge, stereotype, categorize and reduce fans because they're not well-known people of power, but if a politician says he or she enjoys X show, or if a celebrity says so, heaven forbid they bring out the generalizations then.

I feel like this article was written by someone who still thinks sci-fi fans live in their parents' basement with two mattresses and a beanbag chair. Why is that?
They watched Buffy season six?
"Time will tell, but right now Web serials no matter how revealing, provocative or moving seem to be a misstep in the evolution of online video."

Yeah, and those talking pictures will never last either - it's probably just a fad, like swallowing goldfish or cramming folks into a telephone booth.

Oh, sorry, right mindset, wrong century.
gossi - the international streaming issue could be deliberate. How does Hulu make money by streaming Dr Horrible to an international audience?

Is Joss paying the bandwidth bills? I don't believe so.

Advertising? The only ad I've ever seen was a US government public service notice on cleaning up the environment. Is the US government going to pay considerably more so their message can be seen by people in other countries? I don't expect so.

Hulu has said that Dr Horrible has brought more people to their site, which they like. But since the rest of their content is US-only, does it help them to have a bunch of non-US visitors? I don't see how.

I just don't see the percentage in Hulu continuing to stream the show outside the US.
I think web serials are well suited for genre fans. Because we hunt for our entertainment anyway. And searching is fundamental to the Internet. But you don't go blindly searching. Well, I don't. I look for stuff involving people that have a track record for being involved with things I like. It's a clue.

It's not about being obedient or obsessive, but about not being content with whatever is thrown at you by the TV and Movie studio networks and essentially feeling like being told what to like. Actually, I'd say I'm rather disobedient.

The big studios and networks make decisions on what to throw they're money behind based what they think the most people will like...because of course they have to. Investors don't have to like what they're investing in, they just have to get a monetary return on it. Which leaves me wondering what they haven't given the greenlight that I probably would have loved given the chance to see it.

Of course writers, actors, directors et. al. have to make money too, but it's not their sole motivation for being involved with something. Because they're working closer to it they have to at least like it in order to do a good job. So, I trust their judgement more.

As with all things genre and cult, time will tell. It's almost always out of step with the mainstream. It usually doesn't make a huge instantaneously splash but rather is measured by how long it sticks around and continues to bring in new viewers. And web series can stay up on the web for an indefinate amount of time, ready to be found.

Also, YouTube has, IMO, turned into a wasteland of crap and vindictive users.
And they didn't give The Guild a link, which is depressing because it's at www.watchtheguild.com ; ah, well, it's the NYT.
http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=39532032&searchid=96bd546e-2814-4b4e-94fb-63b25fa9a641

Views: 220,934 myspace views.

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