Category Archives: Workshops

Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future

In Fall 2011, Google announced plans to invest $100 million dollars to forge original content partnerships with a number of talented YouTube creators in order to enhance the production value of their work and their value to brands.

The result was a slate of channels from production companies, actors, athletes, comedians, musicians, self-help gurus. Many of the channels have stopped producing new content now that the Google money has run out, but for those that built an audience, the move was influential in strengthening two types of virtual entrepreneurs—web creators and the CEOs of multi-channel networks providing support to those very creators.

Those that rose to the top give us a glimpse at the ways in which the very idea of TV is being reinvented in keeping with advances in digital technology. The multi-channel network Fullscreen is one such company vying for a space in the new entertainment landscape, led by founder and CEO George Strompolos. “I think any time you have a major shift in technology or distribution, new companies are born, and they look a little different. And if they make it, they become quite valuable, and they help bring great ideas and great creativity to the world,” Strompolos said in a recent interview with TH5 co-director and UCLA associate professor Denise Mann.

It’s certainly true in the history of film and television, and as a generation raised on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat comes of age, it’s likely to be true of online video. It’s a generation that “can easily transition from consumer to creator,” as Strompolos says, so Fullscreen has “built a media company in partnership with tens of thousands of content providers from the connected generation. And the internet is our primary distribution source.”

It’s not just a younger generation raised with new technology that is creating content, however. Veteran writers, producers, comedians, and actors are thriving as they rewrite the rules for what constitutes television. Sheri Bryant—producer and co-founder of the successful Geek & Sundry YouTube channel—is one such creator. Not only has Geek & Sundry produced several hit series on YouTube, later this month they will release “Spooked,” a new series on Hulu.

“Spooked” is a co-production with Bad Hat Harry, Bryan Singer’s production company, a sign that Hollywood heavy hitters are paying attention to the corners of digital world beyond the next big Netflix series. “Spooked” also signals the ability of successful YouTube companies to chase other platforms like Hulu and Netflix, and even networks and studios. This doesn’t come at the expense of the YouTube content, as Bryant points out: “The YouTube platform is important to us in the overall growth of our company because so many of our fans live there and it’s a great place for growth.” Of course it also serves as a testing ground for new content that can grow a fan base and then be pitched to and developed for other platforms.

That relationship between new and old is exciting and provides new opportunities, but TH5 co-director and UCLA associate professor Denise Mann suggests there’s more than meets the eye. “By acquiring the big MCNs, the studios hope to access the millions of users and creators that have been amassed by these web networks. In doing so, Hollywood is letting the proverbial [digital] fox into the [analog] chicken-coop, inviting these surveillance-driven marketing strategies to co-exist with their aging, premium content business.”

Join us on April 4 as Denise and Sheri—as well as Larry Shapiro (Head of Talent, Fullscreen), Allen DeBevoise (chairman and CEO, Machinima, Inc.), and Amanda Lotz (associate professor, University of Michigan)—debate the viability of these new creative and business models, asking whether they represent a radical rethinking of entertainment that puts power back into the hands of creators or if they are transitional systems that will eventually be absorbed by Hollywood’s big media groups.

Indie TV: Where Creators and Fans Pilot New Shows

The Internet broke the network bottleneck. Through platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, creators release series directly to fans who follow shows and share them with friends. Web-content creators can write stories in whatever length, style and genre they choose, on their own schedule, and with actors of their choosing. The result is a truly open television ecosystem, where creators, talent and fans work together to realize stories they want to see.

Transforming Hollywood’s April 4 panel on Indie TV will take a look at that ecosystem by chatting with top web creators. The panel is moderated by Aymar Jean Christian, assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University, who says it is “by far the most exciting panel [he’s] ever convened.” The reason for the excitement? “The creators on this panel have written or distributed multiple smart and funny series that expand the sitcom, romantic comedy, and drama television genres.”

Below, Christian breaks down why he’s so excited to engage each of our panelists in conversation.


“In the indie TV market, creators produce stories in whatever size fits the narrative. Episodes of Adam Goldman’s first series, The Outs, ranged from 12 to nearly 50 minutes. Each installment is scaled to let the drama unfold as naturally as possible. For his next series, Whatever this is, Goldman took a different approach, and, having raised more funds on Kickstarter, released six half-hour episodes. Whatever this is gives viewers a robust picture of life as a creative worker — or rather how uncreative and sad that life can be.”



“On the other hand, Jay Bushman’s work on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries expands TV narrative beyond the episode to include other platforms where fans can engage with characters.  The Lizzie Bennet Diaries isn’t the first interactive series — we can think of The Spot in the mid-90s or lonelygirl15 in the mid-00s — but it is a best practices case study for the social media era.”



“Black & Sexy TV, which Numa Perrier co-founded with partner Dennis Dortch, has grown into a hub for the best acted and cinematically intimate romantic comedies and dramas on the web, helping revive a part of the black TV and film market that’s been challenged in recent years. Numa also stars in the network’s popular series, The Couple, where she breathes life into a character without a name.”



“One of the first creators to demonstrate the power of Kickstarter to help fund and raise awareness for web comedies like The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae has continued to release series from other black TV writers on her YouTube channel while she develops for and works in television.”



“Amy Rubin’s Little Horribles is a series without peer on television, a comedy of errors recalling Louie or Seinfeld but focused on a self-indulgent thirtysomething lesbian in Los Angeles. Little Horribles, and many other web series like F to 7th, Pursuit of Sexiness, and The Actress, which Rubin’s Barnacle Studios’ distributes, is how writers use the short-format to their advantage and focus the humor to fit in a single location. For this strategy to work, producers have attract great actors, who respond to strong writing.”



“Brad stands out as a creator who writes and stars in a sophisticated show that rivals, even outdoes, a lot of network TV sitcoms starring gay characters. While it’s hard to single out what works for a show, one of the clear strengths of Husbands is its crisp writing, anchored by Brad’s engaging performance. Husbands gracefully mines and challenges stereotypes while leaving plenty of room for broad and physical humor.”

Christian respects indie TV creators so much because “they are very aware of what their audiences want, what their actors and collaborators want, and when to break the rules of medium. It takes a genius to master such a broad set of skills.”

Don’t miss a fascinating look into this aspect of the transformation of television. To buy tickets, visit


Veronica Mars and the Case of the Fan-Funded Film

The story of how the movie Veronica Mars came to be is much like the episodes contained within the series itself—a clever protagonist must work outside the system to solve the problem of an untimely death.

In this case the protagonist is Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, the untimely death is the cancellation of the TV series at the hands of traditional Hollywood, and his tools employed include nearly every major component of the new entertainment landscape: high quality content, the power of a rabid fan base, the influence of silicon beach, and the impatience of the Internet.

As any good Marshmallow knows, the CW cancelled Veronica Mars 2007 due to poor ratings. Over the next few years, Thomas and Kristen Bell would attempt to push a Veronica Mars movie at Warner Bros. with the help of Joel Silver. But as late as 2010, the studio wasn’t interested enough to put their weight behind it.

“The idea that fans of a cult television series might be able to fund and support it over time has been floated for several decades,” says USC Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts and Transforming Hollywood 5 Co-Director Henry Jenkins. “Many of these shows lack the breadth of viewership which would sustain it through traditional broadcast channels, yet they have a depth of commitment which can be a powerful force when compared to the followings of other kinds of popular culture—from comics and books to most forms of niche music.”

Veronica Mars had that commitment, and it was perfectly paired with new technology in Kickstarter. With Warner Bros.’ approval, the now famous fundraising campaign that asked for $2M raised over $5M in a month from nearly 100,000 donors. “We can see the Veronica Mars campaign as transformative in demonstrating just how big the opportunity is here for the right creators and the right properties,” says Jenkins.

Two weekends ago, Veronica Mars was released by Warner Bros. in 270 theaters, and, in keeping with its progressive past, it was released simultaneously on VOD platforms—a first for Warner Brothers. In theaters the film grossed nearly $2M, or $6,833 per theater, landing it a bottom spot in the top ten for that weekend. Not bad for a fan-funded film.

“Kickstarter has long demonstrated its ability to fund independent and niche media, but since Veronica Mars, we are seeing more and more cult media-makers who previously worked on the edges of the mainstream—from Spike Lee to Steven Sonderberg—cross over into this space. We will see more,” predicts Jenkins.

And if the Veronica Mars movie is a punctuation mark to the series, it certainly isn’t a period. The CW announced in January that Thomas will bring the Veronica Mars world to their online platform for original content, the CW Seed.

Does this mean that the clever, cynical sleuthing of Veronica could be resurrected as a new series? If so, what does that say about the conventional wisdom of Hollywood and the power of fans to demand—and receive—the shows they want? For now, Jenkins sees limitations to funding projects in the Veronica Mars way. “These mechanisms work best where there is a recognized audience already somewhat familiar with the offering: so, we can see works by cult auteurs work here, or we can see it as the court of last resort for a canceled series. It also can work where there is an underserved population—a minority group of some kind (racial, ethnic, sexual, political, cultural) who wants to establish that there is a base of support for a particular kind of media production.”

Join us on April 4th as we continue the conversation on new forms of television production and distribution during our panel entitled “Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-Funding and Social Media: Re-Imagining Television Consumption. Panelists include Ivan Askwith (lead strategist, “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter Campaign), Vicky L. Free (chief marketing officer, BET Networks), Nick Loeffler (director of business development, Kindle Worlds), Stacey Lynn Schulman (senior vice president, chief research officer, Television Bureau of Advertising), and Sharon L. Strover (professor, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin) and will be moderated by Henry Jenkins.

For more info, and to buy tickets, visit

Geek Speaks: The Women Who Make Television

On April 3, the eve of Transforming Hollywood 5: The Future of Entertainment, an exciting event will take place across town at USC, home of TH5 co-director Henry Jenkins. Geek Speaks: The Women Who Make Television pays tribute to American Public Television’s 1973 series The Men Who Made the Movies by showcasing a range of highly creative women who are now working in the American television industry as creators, executive producers, head writers, and showrunners.

A look back on a year plus of developments which have transformed television as a medium, this conference stresses the need to push beyond its focus on masculine creativity by representing the role of women through a broad range of different forms of television programing, including sitcoms, dramas, and fantasy/science fiction programs, that have worked for both broadcast and cable networks.

The evening will consist of two sessions. The first, “Creative Process,” from 4-5:30, explores the panelists’ paths into the industry, their relationships to their mentors and creative partners, and the changing contexts in which television is produced, distributed, and viewed. Panelists include Kim Moses (Ghost Whisperer, Profiler), Alexa Junge (United States of Tara, The West Wing, Friends), Nell Scovell (Warehouse 13, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) Felicia Henderson (Fringe, Gossip Girl, Sister Sister), and Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Kyle XY). The panel will be moderated by Erin Reilly, Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

The second, “Creative Products,” from 6-7:30, deals with the content of their programs, their relationship to their genres, issues of representation, and their perceptions of the audiences for their work. Panelists include Winnie Holzman (Huge, My So Called Life), Robin Schiff (Are You There Chelsea, Huge), Jenny Bicks (The Big C, Sex and the City), and Meg DeLoatch (Brothers, Eve, Family Matters). “Creative Products” will be moderated by Francesca Marie Smith, a doctoral student at USC where she focuses primarily on rhetorical representations of (dis)ability in mass media, situating her work at the intersection of rhetorical theory and criticism, cultural and fan studies, and media criticism.

Women still face an uphill struggle to gain entry into the television industry, yet these women have shattered through the glass ceiling and can now stand as role-models for the next generation of women and men who want to change what kinds of stories television tells and what kinds of audiences it addresses.

To RSVP, visit:

Transforming Hollywood 5: The Future of Television

For the past four years, UCLA and USC have co-hosted the public symposium Transmedia, Hollywood, which has explored the role of transmedia franchises in today’s entertainment industries. Led by Denise Mann (UCLA) and Henry Jenkins (USC), Transmedia, Hollywood has turned the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives, engaging them in critical dialogue with top researchers across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means, as well as looking at the dramatic changes in the entertainment industry as it adapts to a digital economy.

Panel Information and Schedule    

This year’s Transmedia, Hollywood conference is taking on a new challenge—tracking the major changes taking place in the television industry. Companies like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and Microsoft Xbox, all of which began with very discrete goals—online retail, online streaming of network TV shows, direct-to-home DVD rentals, next-generation gaming, user-generated videos—have slowly begun dipping their toes in the original content waters. 2013 saw significant developments on this front with Netflix releasing three original series (“House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove,” “Orange is the New Black”) and producing a new season of the cult hit “Arrested Development.” The first foray into original programming was a success by many accounts, including 18 combined Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations and four wins.

Buy Tickets    

This evolution is a sure sign that big change is afoot in the entertainment industry. For that reason, UCLA and USC’s fifth annual Transmedia Hollywood becomes Transforming Hollywood 5: The Future of Television. The one-day symposium, set for April 4, 2014, will examine the landmark transformations that are impacting creators, distributors and audiences in extraordinary ways.

Topics to be covered include reinventing TV for the digital future, video streaming on demand, independent content creation, as well as re-imagining television consumption.
Continuing in the tradition of previous years, panelists—cutting edge industry leaders and innovators, content creators, artists and scholars—will tackle these issues in a series of lively debates that take into consideration both the practical and business realities of these shifts, as well as their cultural implications.

More information about the conference can be found on the conference overview page.