Let’s just hope Sprint doesn’t blow it.
Here is how Geoff Hammill, writing for The Museum of Broadcast Communications, summarized the incredibly popular award-winning sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show:
Felicia Day’s eight-minute webisodic-turned-cultural-phenomenon The Guild revolves around the character Codex, a single woman in her late-twenties, early thirties who is not widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her, but who holds a position of great importance in her online guild – that of the Healer. The show can similarly assert itself as a pioneer in the new post-TV era entertainment spectrum. Originally broadcast via YouTube and The Guild’s own website, the show was subsidized by viewers like you sending donations through PayPal.
The Guild centers around a group of regular people who know each other singularly via their membership in an online guild of adventurers in an unspecified MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game), but that any former Azerothian would quickly identify as World of Warcraft.
Day, the show’s creator, producer and star, confessed that she created the show out of her own two-year addiction to the game. I completely empathize; I myself spent two years as the founder and leader of a WoW guild that had up to two hundred and fifty members at any given time. I would spend entire nights with my then girlfriend, side-by-side on separate computers, grinding away for loot. It defined the entire second year of our relationship. I think it was when I looked at the clock reading 1PM and I was still up from the night before hacking away at giant wasps in a virtual desert in hopes of finding some sort of epic ring that had a .01% chance of dropping that I bypassed all suspicion and went straight to absolute certainty, that I had a terrible debilitating addiction and that I had to stop.
A Night Elf from World of Warcraft
photo credit: antigone78
Stopping wasn’t easy; my strongest social ties now existed by virtue of the Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Tauren that I had befriended in the game almost two years prior. Using Ventrilo and TeamSpeak to talk over headsets, their real-life voices were indelibly linked to the image of their respective avatars. We had laughed, fought, in some cases hooked up (not me, and not necessarily exclusively in the virtual domain), broken up, mutinied, reunited, cried, lost everything, and fought to win it back again. I could simply hang up the receiver and pretend it had never existed; that it was just some misstep in the way I spent my time between jobs. This wasn’t some bad, obsessive Bejeweled habit – this was a real part of my life, my memories, my emotional landscape. I would dream of Azerothian locales at night, of my friends and what we had said to one another. My fingers would absently tap out key commands when I met someone for coffee.
Felicia Day decided to go public with her story and is now reaping the rewards for her courage. The eight-minute episodes were picked up by Microsoft and are available for instant download (free at that) on their Xbox Live and Zune platforms. Episodes center around the interactions between the Guild members in the Meatverse (that’s the offline world for you newbies/n00bs/nubs) and how they feel at once awkward and entitled amongst themselves as they attempt to reconcile their alter-egos with their Earthly counterparts.
Largely populated by unknown actors (Day herself used to have a recurring role on cult hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the episodes are not only legitimately funny and clever, but in their second season have started to branch out into the downright avante-garde. In a recent episode – titled simply “Fight!” – Day, who plays the ineffectual, self-conscious character “Codex” (we only know the characters by their online handles) confides to her webcam that she is both torn and flattered by the competition between Zaboo and a local stuntman hottie for her hand. When things go awry and she ends up empty handed, a spectral version of herself leaps from her body and runs away from the scene as we reach the closing credits.
In much the same way, the show is beginning to trascend it own campy micro-niche origins and drawing an ever larger crowd of onlookers. Bookended by a sponsorship page from Sprint PCS, the show runs commercial-free, but nothing about its eight-minute per episode length feels unsatisfactory; in a time where attention spans and available mind-share is running at a deficit, this show is a quick entertainment bump that quells the hunger as readily as a Snickers Almond bar between meetings.
The music industry was ambushed by a lethal combination comprised of the mp3 compression technology and high-speed internet access for less than a monthly cable bill. As it struggled to plug the holes in its sinking ship, it fought to maintain control, when in fact it should have done the counter-intuitive thing and just given the music away for free like radio had done for so long. Sure, radio has ads, but not all radio: jazz and classical stations, NPR, they are funded by donations much like The Guild was in its early days. If people appreciate the content you are creating, they will rally behind it. But hindsight is 20/20. The music industry could not possibly have projected the way out once the gates were overwhlemed by the Barbarians, any more than it could have imagined that Napster would evolve into Twitter.
In its second phase, The Guild has moved from the PBS model of public funding to the early television model wherein a show’s content was intertwined with content involving its sponsors. With Sprint as its modern day Ovaltine, The Guild has a much larger, focused target group. But the public is far more ad-blind than it was back in the days of Gunsmoke. So long as Sprint doesn’t get greedy by asserting its product placement too heavy handedly within the midst of the video, they may very well have a new kind of success story on their hands.
The respite that would bring, after so many thousands of short videos consisting of people getting thwacked in the head with a two-by-four, is like mana from the gods.
"Keram makes excursions into almost every style of music imaginable here and does it with such flair that these very pleased ears, he could have settled on any of these genres and made just as brilliant a record." - Mark Rheaume, CBC Radio