Dr. Horrible: My Kind of Hero

“The day needs my saving expertise”

Jeph Loeb is making some noise about the Heroes webisodes that just went online over on nbc.com:

There’s kind of a historical importance, if I’m not putting too much importance on it, in the sense that, like I said, these are the first [Writers] Guild-sanctioned [web] episodes, which kind of allow for… You know, if you believe that members of the Writers Guild have a higher quality of writing than somebody who isn’t, that’s an opportunity to see what you can do if you let the big boys come in and play… They do have a historical precedence to them. (From a wordballoon.com podcast, transcribed and quoted on io9.)

Now, no disrespect to Mr. Loeb (longtime Loeb fan, and big Heroes fan here)–and in all fairness, we’ve only been treated to one webisode so far, so who knows what’s in store for Heroes online–but: meh.

Ad-supported material that is separate-but-parallel to (and ultimately inconsequential to the plot of) a major-network TV series might be fun filler, but breaks no boundaries. His argument that this is the first time that ‘the big boys’ are playing online holds absolutely no water, especially in light of the other, TV-related big event on the internet this week.

The true history-making online show (and I use the term ‘history-making’ gingerly, as I’m not fond of hyperbole) is Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a completely original new series, so far consisting of one ‘arc’ composed of three fifteen-minute acts (two of which are available now; the third one goes up on July 19th).

[More below the fold…]

 Dr. Horrible was born out of the writer’s strike as well, but in a different way: Whedon, after trying to find financing in Silicon Valley for a small project, decided to go it alone, eschewing the studio financing system entirely, calling in favors, and creating something totally under his control. He’s now throwing it on the internet, and relying on word-of-mouth and his legions of rabid fans for publicity. Well, considering that upon launch, both the Dr. Horrible site and Whedonesque were brought to their knees, I’d say people have, em, responded favorably. Dr. Horrible has gotten rave reviews here, and here, as well as picking up some good buzz.

And you know what? It’s good. It’s damn good. As the title implies, the show is a musical, and it tells the story of Dr. Horrible, an up-and-coming evil scientist (played with self-effacing charm by Neil Patrick Harris) who is trying to get into the Evil League of Evil, while also trying to gain the affection of his laundromat crush, Penny (Felicia Day). Dr. Horrible, of course, has a nemesis: Captain Hammer (played by everyone’s favorite cowboy/starship captain, Nathan Fillion), who not only thwarts the Doctor’s every move (“He dislocated my shoulder. Again. Last week”), but also makes a play for Penny. The nerve.

Go check it out right now. I’ll wait.

See? Toldja.

Dr. Horrible is a complete story, not a vehicle for holding audience interest during an over-long hiatus between seasons, like the Heroes or Battlestar Galactica webisodes. Its home is on the internet, and as such, it’s being offered as a free stream for a limited time (it comes down on July 20. Go, watch it again now while you still can. I know you want to. That freeze ray song is catchy, isn’t it?), and pay-per-download on iTunes. Eventually, Whedon and crew plan to release a DVD chock-full of extras, including something he’s referring to as ‘commentary with an exclamation point’.

Other, lesser-known internet shows such as Ask a Ninja, Happy Tree Friends, and Tiki Bar TV, have strong, steady followings grown mostly via online word-of-mouth, and are successful in their own right. These creators have found that the internet not only provides a voice for their undiluted vision, but also a support system that helps them keep doing what they love. Yes, they have to ‘roll their own’ marketing and monetization schemes, but they keep their productions trimmed and manageable by a small team of committed, dedicated people, doing what they do just as much for the love of it as for a living. Kind of makes you wonder if we really need that army of suits up in Hollywood.

Forget about the future. This is the present of media: on the net, where the phrase ‘on demand’ isn’t just a catchy cable package moniker, it’s a modus operandi. Dr. Horrible is the high profile, thin wedge of a very, very large spear. Let the floodgates open wide.

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