Still hot after Icebox.com

Feb 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

For veteran TV writer Rob LaZebnik, helping found the online entertainment company Icebox.com was more about expanding his creative horizons than about landing a licensing deal. But when Showtime expressed interest in developing Mr. LaZebnik’s online animated comedy “Starship Regulars” into a live-action, half-hour series, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It’s one of the things I get really excited about,” Mr. LaZebnik said about the show. “It was an idea I had for a long time, but it’s very hard to find a place for it.”
“Starship” is a sci-fi comedy about the blue-collar workers on a spaceship and their lack of interest in the galactic drama that surrounds them. Mr. LaZebnik will write the live-action pilot. His animated webisodes are broadcast on Sho.com, Showtime’s Web site. The August 2000 deal marked the first Web series to be sold to a television network, a distinction Mr. LaZebnik wears with pride.
“It was exciting,” he said. “That was a big part of the plan-using Icebox as this kind of incubator for TV shows and movies and as an inexpensive way to showcase stuff. [Icebox] is a chance to do those dream projects that, for whatever reason, you haven’t yet.”
Though Icebox.com closed its doors earlier this month, Mr. LaZebnik said the online venture was a perfect medium for creative freedom.
“From the beginning there’s no question that you could really spread your wings creatively at Icebox,” he said. “I don’t think you would have seen a show like `Mr. Wong’ or even `Queer Duck’ launching on NBC.
“Truthfully, television is harder in the respect that it’s so expensive to produce these pilots. A typical network half-hour pilot is over a million dollars. For that amount of money online, we can do a dozen of our series-if not more. It just
allowed us to take a lot more chances.
“I think the Web is and will remain a place for [creativity], but it has become much more difficult since the market implosion of the Net-it does become a little more market-driven.”
In addition to developing “Starship,” Mr. LaZebnik is writing a family-themed pilot for CBS. But in adapting his online cartoon into a live-action show, he encountered some interesting obstacles.
“In animation you really can do anything, which is one of the great things about it,” he said. “You can say to yourself, `Let’s do an episode on a planet.’ Yes, it’s a little more expensive to have the artist draw planetscapes, but not nearly as expensive as building huge planet sets. So there are those limitations, but it’s a great challenge.”
Rob LaZebnik
Age: 38
Co-founder and co-president of production of Icebox.com, previously co-executive producer of “The Simpsons.”
Credits: “The Simpsons” (Fox), “Common Law” (ABC), “Muscle” (The WB), “Blossom” (NBC), “Empty Nest” (NBC).
Projects in the works: “Starship Regulars” for Showtime and a family-themed pilot for CBS.