In Depth

Column: Nonfiction Web Series to Rule

We have yet to witness the successful migration of a Web series to the television. But when that epic event occurs, as it inevitably will, my double-down, all-in bet is on a nonfiction show.

With all due respect to the very fine original scripted Web programs out there like "Break a Leg," "Wainy Days" or "G.I.L.F.," none of those will be the landmark series that does what “Quarterlife” could not do—make the successful leap from the Web to the TV.

That accolade is more likely to go to a Web news show, a tech review show, or an interview show. We’re more likely to see Gary Vaynerchuk’s "Wine Library Reserve" (the five-minute version of his wine review show) imported to Fine Living, "ZapRoot" or "Green House" jump to Discovery Planet Green, or "Pop Siren’s" bite-size bits having another life on Oxygen. We might even see MojoHD’s "The Circuit" moving from the Web to the on-air network. Sure, the last one is an easy bet, since the show is already backed by a network.

But that’s sort of the point. News, reviews and talk shows are easier in general to sell to programmers and to viewers. Besides, look at the bulk of programming already on the tube. The lion’s share of content across the dial is nonfiction, such as sports, news, reality and Discovery- or Bravo-style programs. Shoehorning a breakout Web hit into those lineups makes more sense.

Plus, nonfiction is a safer gamble. Cable programming executives will have an easier time pitching a 5- or 10-minute Web series to run as an interstitial than a broadcast president will have greenlighting another scripted show. The stench of “Quarterlife’s” failure still lingers.

That’s not to say the writers, producers, directors and actors in some of the hottest Web series like writer Yuri Baranovsky of “Break a Leg” or writer-actor Felicia Day of "The Guild" won’t have careers on TV. They will. They’ll get hired. (Day has already been on TV in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”) But networks will cast her in some already existing show, rather than buying “The Guild,” despite all the show’s merits.

What’s more, the Web-to-TV migration that will happen will not occur with one big hit, but rather with a steady influx of nonfiction Internet programs on cable networks first, and then broadcast networks.