HBO division hooked on Web stars


HBOlab, an experimental offshoot of the cable powerhouse focused on online programming, is launching a Web video series featuring a cast of the Internet's most popular entertainers.

Jessica Rose, star of the Web sensation "lonelygirl15," will be joined by top YouTube talent, including video bloggers known as sxePhil and KevJumba, for the scripted comedy "Hooking Up." Set to premiere Oct. 1, the 10-episode series will be distributed on video portals including YouTube and MySpace as well as a destination site,

"Hooking Up" could prove groundbreaking for the nascent webisode genre by amassing a sizable viewership, given its aggregation of Internet personalities who can promote the production to their devoted audiences of millions of young viewers.

For HBOlab, "Hooking Up" is an opportunity to take to the next level the knowledge the unit has gleaned regarding Internet video distribution.

"I think we're going to see a lot more hits than had we cast a bunch of funny people you didn't know," said Fran Shea, head of HBOlab.

YouTube content partnerships manager George Strompolos likened the genesis of "Hooking Up" to an organic strategy employed occasionally by his site's stars, who pop up in one another's videos to cross-pollinate their audiences.

"It has happened before, but there hasn't been a real production company with this level of support orchestrating everything," he said. "That will be the extra push it will need to get out there in a smart, fun way."

"Hooking Up" puts its Internet all-stars to work acting as students at a fictional university where the populace spends most of its time e-mailing, instant-messaging and Twittering but always seems to be miscommunicating. will be supplemented with social- networking capabilities, and the series' characters will have their own Facebook pages. No advertising will be a part of the first season, though HBO could elect to bring sponsors on board should the series continue.

To date, HBOlab has concentrated on creating the online hub Runaway Box, a collection of comedy videos. One Runaway player, Mike Polk, has signed a script-development deal with HBO.

Registering among the 10 most subscribed channels on YouTube, Kevin Wu, aka KevJumba, and Philip DeFranco, aka sxePhil, are well-known as video bloggers but have not worked on a scripted production. "It was a big risk to take two non-actors and put them in lead roles," Shea said.

Another top 10 YouTube star, Michael Buckley of the "What the Buck Show," not only appears in "Hooking Up" but also has signed a development deal with HBOlab that will put him in other projects.

"Hooking Up" is written and directed by Woody Tondorf, a HBOlab staffer who also has a part in the series. (partialdiff)