Guilty pleasures take Minisodes to the max

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For those of us in our 30s, there is a shared television legacy almost too embarrassing to recall from our younger days. It was a time when the medium gave us the likes of "The Facts of Life," "T.J. Hooker" and "Diff'rent Strokes." They were terrible, and yet we loved them and still do.

Lisa Dubbe-Herbert is from this unfortunate generation but a member of no average standing. As director of digital programming at Sony Pictures Television, she is de facto curator to the Minisode Network, an online showcase for this kitschy cache of forgotten TV relics.

"I grew up on these shows," Dubbe-Herbert says. "They trigger this pleasure center in the brain."

The twist is that these shows are available in "minisode" form, which shrinks 30- or 60-minute episodes into just five minutes. To capture the ever-dwindling attention spans of younger viewers, minisodes dispense with nonessential scenes that don't advance the story.

Which might come as a surprise to viewers like myself who were unaware that there actually were story lines in these episodes. I don't recall as much intricate plotting in, say, "Charlie's Angels" as I do jiggling flesh and car chases. Minisodes ain't speed-reading Shakespeare.

Since launching in June, the Minisode Network has grown to 18 shows and expanded from its perch on MySpace, where it amassed 2.7 million streams, to AOL, Joost and Sony-owned Crackle. Mobile is the next frontier, with Verizon VCast already signed up. Pepsi has emerged as a major sponsor, even touting links to minisodes on select cans as part of a new retro-inspired promotion.

Dubbe-Herbert believes that minisodes attract two different audiences: not only the thirtysomethings returning for nostalgia but a younger generation who might not have seen the original episodes and are curious. "Now they are experiencing these brands for the first time, and they're used to getting entertainment quicker than we were back in the day," she says.

Minisode Network also is broadening its content selection beyond my beloved '80s classics to more recent fare like "Ricki Lake" and earlier work like "Bewitched." Even more interesting: Sony is looking to strike license deals with outside companies to bring non-Sony programming down to size.

"We are starting to work with outside partners to bring that content in," Dubbe-Herbert says. "Not yet, but we're close."

That could mark the ultimate validation of the minisode concept; just imagine a fellow conglomerate with a massive library of TV programming like Universal coming with the likes of "Kojak" and "Knight Rider." Minisode would be following in the footsteps of cable channel SoapNet, which built itself on a diet of ABC soaps before branching out to genre offerings from non-Disney companies.

Minisode Network also is a great way to spot celebrities before they got big paying their dues in forgettable guest spots. Watch enough Minisodes, and you'll spot Kim Basinger on "Charlie's Angels" or Jodie Foster on "The Partridge Family." And you might never look at George Clooney the same way again when you spot him sporting a mullet on "Facts of Life."

So which TV show is the most popular property on Minisode Network? My personal favorite: "Diff'rent Strokes." That said, so many people clamored for "The Jeffersons" after the site launched without it that Sony accelerated the editing process just to get George and Weezie on the Internet. And there's more to come, Dubbe-Herbert says. "We haven't cleaned out the vault yet."
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