Net Income

By Randee Dawn

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Genny Hutchinson is a writer's assistant and script coordinator who works on AMC's "Breaking Bad." She doesn't have an agent, and only recently earned her WGA card. What she does have, however, are two produced scripts of material starring Emmy winner (and "Bad" star) Bryan Cranston.

Not a bad line on the resume. But Hutchinson's work hasn't aired on cable. Rather, she's one of a growing cadre of up-and-coming scribes making a name for themselves on TV -- by writing original content episodes for the Web.

"It's nice to have something that's been produced that I can point to, and Bryan Cranston is in it, and you can say, 'This is my work,' " Hutchinson says.

Jeanne Leitenberg is in a similar position. She's a special projects administrator for the CW's "Gossip Girl," and along with the other original Web content she creates, she writes webisodes that focus on secondary characters from the TV show.

"I write the online content, I work with sponsors," she says. "It encompasses a whole lot of stuff, this job -- it's a new kind of job coming up with a lot of TV shows, now that they're integrating the Web more."

Webisodes are created by a pair of assistants over at NBC's "Heroes." Jim Martin works with creator Tim Kring, and Timm Keppler works with EP Dennis Hammer. While they write Internet-based "Heroes" graphics, their other job is webisode creation.

"It really is a microcosm of the show you're working on," Martin says. "The problems we encounter in producing the webisodes are pretty much the same problems they might have on the series."

At this stage, the "wild west" cliche often appended to the Internet definitely applies to webisodic content positions. While every network recognizes the Internet has potential to engage viewers beyond the actual TV episodes, on shows that have invested in webisodic content there's rarely an established hierarchical structure. That gives new voices a wide berth in carving out their own niche.

But not every show relies on its minor leaguers to run the Web. On CBS' "The Ghost Whisperer," executive producers Ian Sander and Kim Moses have created show-related books, comics and even designed the DVD boxes. For them, original webisodes are just part of the "total engagement experience," Sander says. "We see a television series as the most important component of a more comprehensive entertainment experience."

Proof of their success has been monetized, too: Webisode sponsor GM liked what they saw so much they started advertising on the series, too.

ABC's "Lost" may not have strictly original content webisodes, but their "Lost: Untangled" series use everything from comic book layouts to low-budget cutouts of the characters to recap episodes in a manic, humorous style -- and those are put together by the co-executive vps of marketing for the network, Michael Benson and Marla Provencio.

"On the one hand, we're trying to bring people in who have missed a show, and on the other we're trying to create content and products that deepen the experience with fans," Benson says.

Despite "Lost" and "Ghost," the trend is to give control over webisodic content to the groundlings who don't cost as much as the pros -- even once they earn their WGA cards -- and are happy to get the experience in the process.

"It's been a great apprenticeship," "Heroes' " Keppler says. "Writing these episodes forces you to tell story in a compact but really visceral and engaging way. Really, it's been like a mini-film school."
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