In the current issue, Joss Whedon, the George Lucas of television, reveals why working on his triumphant return to the small screen, Dollhouse, has convinced him to abandon TV for good. His alternative medium: Web serials. He began making the sci-fi musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (which stars Neil Patrick Harris) during the writers’ strike, streamed a few episodes online for free, and struck it big when they went onsale at iTunes. Here Whedon discusses his early foray into Web shows and reveals his plans for the near future. Plus, check out five must-watch Web series — several of which are Whedon-approved.
What what was it about Internet series first appealed to you?
I had been very interested in the idea of making things on the cheap with the people that I love and trust — low risk, medium yield kind of stuff where you can just do what you think is right and not have to worry.
Your fans have created so much fiction online. To what degree was that on your radar?
I’m aware of it and but most of the fan stuff is a continuation of something that already exists. The one that really got me was the Star Trek episode, the New Voyages, which was over an hour of film and extraordinarily artfully scripted entertainment that streamed perfectly. I’m not a trekker, and I was riveted. I was sitting on a stool in my kitchen, and I cannot move. I was like, this is amazing.
Amazing in what sense?
It was probably the best episode of the original Star Trek I’d ever seen. The only [bad] part of it was that the special effects were a little too good. Apart from that they really aped the camera work, the acting, the story structures and the over-quoting of Shakespeare. And it worked tremendously. And I had also been watching The Guild with Felicia [Day, actress in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible] and it was small, it was delightful and it was her. She wrote it, she produced it, it really was her and she is a massive gamer. So here was another really great example from a different mold of just somebody who got tired of not getting the gig, creating the gig. And Felicia and Eliza [Dushku, of Dollhouse] have that in common, both people are taking control of their careers, which for an ingénue is the hardest thing in the world.
So I started going to all these meetings. People were like, “Let’s get $200 million from this hedge fund and make TV on the Internet and then sell it back to TV!” And I was like, “I don’t think that’s my mission statement.” And at the end of the day I basically made a deal or agreed to a deal with a company, a Silicon Valley company who shall remain nameless because that deal is still being made.
For Dr. Horrible?
No, it was for something else. The idea was possibly creating a portal and using this as the first thing. And possibly creating a real relationship. Which, by the way, could still happen. But before Christmas I sat down with this very, very sort of profitable maverick company and said, “Look, I want to do this and I will do it for you cheaper than anybody in this town and make it look good. I don’t care.” They were talking about doing a genre portal and they talked to me and I said, “I have three ideas.” The third was Dr. Horrible, I knew they wouldn’t go for that.
Could you tell me what the other ones were?
No, because I might still do them. In fact, I plan to do them.