A winged spacecraft darts toward an alien planet that’s cloaked by a thick orange fog. Triumphant orchestral music booms as a voice-over bellows, “Watch Marvel studios scrape the bottom of the barrel”—cut to a cartoon of bulky superheroes—“for their obscure ’70s comic that barely anyone read.” Now: a shot of actor Chris Pratt looking perplexed, then the shiny, red Marvel Comics logo. “Proving once and for all,” the voice says, “We’ll see anything if you slap Marvel’s name in front of it.” Then the voice echoes what we see in bold, golden letters across the screen: “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
This … is an Honest Trailer. Andy Signore and the pop-culture devotees at Screen Junkies, a widely viewed YouTube channel, have created almost 100 of these movie and television trailers since 2012. The Web series—loaded with candor and snark—has earned nearly 80 million views online.
The crew behind Honest Trailers is nominated for Best Comedy and Best Writing (Comedy) at the International Academy of Web Television Awards—essentially the Emmys of episodic Web videos. The awards have been held in Las Vegas since their inception in 2012. This year’s ceremony is April 15 at the Westgate. (You can purchase tickets to attend in person, or—appropriately so—stream the show online.)
Certainly, the Internet allows more creative freedom than television. (And no, we’re not talking about porn.) Throughout the decades, television has developed rigid standards and conventions. Because the system is built on advertising, most networks need content that minimizes risk and maximizes ratings. Every network has to accommodate commercial breaks. Every episode of a sitcom clocks in around 22 minutes. The Web is more free flowing.
Jonathan Robbins, head of this year’s awards committee, used to act in commercials and film. He got involved with Web series when the Writers Guild of America strike started in 2007. “Television was getting stale,” he says. “Taking the lead on a [Web] project meant that I could be creative 24/7.” He began writing, directing and acting in Web series. He currently stars in Out With Dad, about a teen lesbian coming out to her single father. Robbins describes the series as “too niche” for mainstream audiences.
Whether or not that’s true, Web shows are able to appeal to a narrow audience. (By definition, broadcast TV is meant for the masses.) One example of such niche success is The Guild (TheGuild.com), an early Web comedy about online gamers. The series, which released new episodes from 2007-2012, is dense with humor directed toward fellow lovers of Internet fantasy. (“Even when his uncle died, he found Wi-Fi at the funeral home.”) Its first season was funded by fans through PayPal. Seasons 2-5 were sponsored by Xbox while the show was still independently owned, no network required.
That’s the thing about Web television: There’s little barrier to entry. You don’t need the thick wallet of a network. You could be Jared Posts a Personal, one of this year’s Best Micro-Budget nominees. And you don’t have to wait until pilot season to pitch executives on your Next Big Thing. You can upload it as soon as you create it. The flip side is that so can anyone else. A network acts like a funnel, sifting through content and pushing the “best” of it to viewers. But the Web is vast, and an audience is not guaranteed.
This year, the Web award shows will gain a new audience as it moves from CES to the National Association of Broadcasters Show. They’re leaving the tech-driven gadget-palooza to rub elbows with the old-timers: broadcast TV and radio. It’s kind of like being invited to sit with the seniors when you’re a freshman … except that you’re all part of the chess club (a tradeshow in Las Vegas) and you still get shunned by the football team (Hollywood).
Web television is still struggling for legitimacy. Two of the most popular online-only series—Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards—aren’t nominees because their producers didn’t submit for Web awards. Robbins believes that these producers would rather associate with traditional television. “Perhaps [they think that] if they won an award as a Web series, their chances at something like an Emmy might be hurt,” he says. Indeed, both of those series have been nominated for—or won—a lot of Emmys.
You can’t blame Netflix’s producers for wanting major league validation. It’s likely that many Web television creators pine for it, too. As long as there’s been television, those gold statuettes have been the highest honors. (Even the Daytime and Creative Arts Emmys elicit disapproving side eye from Emmy winners.)
Will the Television Academy one day absorb these Web TV awards? Will Web and broadcast shows meld into a more similar product? Or will there always be a divide? Time will tell. For now, Web television is just being brave in an old world.
Five Web TV Awards Nominees to Watch
The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy
Nominated for: Best Female Performance in a Comedy, Best Production Design.
The guy who won’t grow up is now a comic book artist living in Neverland, Ohio. He secretly hopes to win the heart of his best friend, Wendy Darling. But to do so, he’ll need his friends, his fairy Tinkerbell and a dose of maturity. NewPeterWendy.com.
Nominated for: Best Dramatic Series, Best Directing (Drama), Best Writing (Drama).
Linda Thoroughbred is a divorcee working her way through Wall Street in the late ’70s. The series maps her rise from file keeper to full-on, boss lady Ponzi schemer. WhateverLinda.com.
The Real Housewives of Horror
Nominated For: Best Ensemble Performance (Comedy), Best Makeup, Best Comedy, Best Directing (Comedy).
“My husband Deathwish is one of the greatest slashers of all time,” brags the peppy blond Heather in the pilot. “The constant fear of death really keeps the marriage spicy.” Nerdist.com/Real-Housewives-Of-Horror.
Nominated for: Best Children’s Series, Best Variety Series, Best Directing/Best Writing (Non-Fiction).
What happens when modern youths meet VCRs? ’80s toys? Film cameras? They freak out. Each episode is peppered with historical facts, so we all learn something! Youtube.com/user/React.
Larry King Now
Nominated for: Best Pre-Recorded Host Series, Best Pre-Recorded Host.
The broadcast legend’s Web show packs just as much old-guy charm as his former CNN show. Watching him make sense of youngsters such as DJ Khaled and Tyler, The Creator is quite literally … priceless. Ora.TV/LarryKingNow. – C.C.
CORRECTION: The print version of this story credits Jonathan Robbins as writer and director of Out With Dad . The correct credit is Jason Leaver. Whatever, Linda is also nominated for Best Writing (Drama).