In Depth

Column: Whedon Says It’s All About the Message, Not the Medium

The Web according to Joss Whedon: Soon Internet video will be significant enough to merit a colony of moonpeople and their doctors.

Joss Whdeon

OK, that might sound a little strange, I’ll admit. But let’s not forget this is the man who brought us a super-villain who blogs about his evil exploits in “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”—oops, probably not the best topic for a blog that the authorities might read.

But that gives you an idea of how Mr. Whedon’s creative mind works. I spoke by phone with the showrunner of TV cult hits like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” about “Dr. Horrible” and its impact on the Web video economy.

The show, released online in July, logged more than 2 million views in its first five days and has become one of the landmark hits on the Web. It’s also in line to break even soon, thanks to ad revenue from video sites, soundtrack downloads on iTunes and a pending DVD release, and potentially turn a profit.

“It did teach me that there is this no man’s land between the YouTube videos and a TV series and independent movies that is not bound by restrictions of budget or length of structure or genre,” Mr. Whedon said. “It is just bound by if you have the material to make it. And you can put it out there, and if more people start doing that, it will become more common, the way YouTube has become a daily exercise for people to troll through and look through. This is one foot on the moon, but soon we will have a colony of moonpeople and then there will be a colony of doctors on the moon, too.”

When he conceived the Web musical during the writers strike earlier this year, Mr. Whedon admitted, he didn’t expect the warm reception from critics, the press and audiences. “It was a lark,” he said. “It was a deliberate lark.”

He also said “Dr. Horrible” will go down in his career as the most fun he’s ever had on a project. “When you make something for a giant corporation, you collaborate with them to fit their mold and it’s a long torturous process. ‘Dr. Horrible’ was a six-day shoot, conceived with love, written with laughter and made with a lot of joy and energy and then well-received. From conception to distribution it was less than five months, and you can’t top that.”

But what if the show were on television, too? Would that be icing? That’s why I asked him the question, albeit flipped around, that I ask other Web creators: Do you aspire to be on TV? Of course, Mr. Whedon is a reverse engineer. He made his mark in TV before turning to the Web. Still, I wanted to know his aspirations for the project.

“For me it’s like going on a date. If all you are thinking about is getting in bed, you aren’t going to have a nice dinner,” he said.

Fortunately, Mr. Whedon had a nice dinner and, unlike most Web stars, he’s poised to make money. So are his actors.

The show cost in the low six figures to produce, with the main stars working on deferred pay. “In a couple months we can start paying off everybody and, even if it’s a small pie, we are cutting it up in a way that the actors and writers get first-dollar gross,” he said.

Check out Joss Whedon as one of TVWeek's Top 10 Web video creators here.