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Webisodes Lead to Legal Showdown

I have to say that I've really been enjoying the webisodes that The Office gang put together this summer. They're punchy and quirky little vignettes that are helping to (somewhat) tide me over until the show returns this fall.

Greg Daniels and the Office crew have very cleverly created a mystery that pits the accounting team of Angela (Angela Kinsey), Oscar (Oscar Nunez), and Kevin (Michael Baumgartner) against the rest of the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin in order to find $3000 that went missing. All while managing to avoid any resolution to the cliffhanger Jim-Pam kiss from the "Casino Night" season finale.

Lately, it seems as though webisodes are everywhere. Every time you open the trades, there's another article about another series launching webisodes or Verizon-based mobisodes (that's mobile-based episodes, for the uninitiated) for Entourage. But what if you found out that the showrunners of these series (Greg Daniels, in the case of The Office) didn't want to be making them? If they were, in fact, actively opposed to the endeavor? It sort of makes the whole webisode craze seem a little too much of a "jump on the bandwagon" sort of studio mandate and less of a creative practice. If you were a showrunner on one of these shows, would you participate in the process?

And that's just what's happening. According to Variety, NBC Universal Television has filed a complaint against the WGA with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the guild is telling showrunners not to cooperate in the production of webisodes. The studio believes this act is illegal because NBC U's contracts with the showrunners includes the creation of content for the internet. (The series in question include The Office, Battlestar Galactica, Crossing Jordan, and the upcoming fall drama Heroes.)

"NBC Universal has a contract in place with its TV series producers to create promotional, made-for-internet content, which include Webisodes," an NBC Universal spokesperson told Variety. "We're asking our producers to fulfill their obligations in creating these materials, and we're taking appropriate legal action to discourage the WGA's interference."

The move comes at an increasingly tense time of active hostility between the networks and the WGA. The guild is currently involved in an ongoing dispute with fledgling net The CW over its refusal to allow the WGA jurisdiction over reality series America's Next Top Model. Writers from that show have been on strike for several weeks now over the issue but The CW maintains that their strike will have no impact on the show, which wrapped Cycle 7, debuting this fall, earlier this year. (Cycle 8 is currently casting and expected to begin production next month; The CW says that they have a contingency plan if the writers' strike continues.)

Additionally, CBS set tongues wagging earlier this week when they announced plans to stream several of their shows (the wholly owned ones anyway) on their new broadband platform, Innertube, without notifying the WGA, SAG, or DGA in advance. (You can check out their joint statement on the hot-button issue here.)

If NBC U has their way, they'd like the National Labor Relations Board to force showrunners into jumping on that speeding bandwagon and providing services in connection with the creation of webisodes. But to me, that's a simplification of the entire issue. On a show like The Office, producing 22 episodes a season is already a strain on the extremely tight budget that the studio provides. Add into that additional costs for webisodes, which are usually shot during the production schedule, and it's telling--not asking--showrunners to drain already limited resources.

As for me, I like my Office webisodes but I like my Office episodes even better, and I'd hate to see this issue bring about a full-blown strike. I think that if studios are going to pressure their showrunners into producing additional content (or streaming said content online), studios should have to pony up additional cash to compensate the actors, writers, and directors involved with the production of these additional mini-episodes.

Fair compensation? Now that's one bandwagon I can see myself jumping on.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Dateline (NBC); What I Like About You/Twins (WB); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC); Spider-Man (FOX; 8-10 pm); Major League Baseball (UPN)

9 pm: Las Vegas (NBC); Reba/Living with Fran (WB); Kyle XY (ABC)

10 pm: Da Vinci's Inquest (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: The Kumars at No. 42 on BBC America.

The hilarious semi-improvised sitcom/talk show hybrid returns with a new season of celebrity interviews. In the studio tonight: overly tan actor and product shill George Hamilton and UK journo and TV presenter Mariella Frostrup, the object of desire for Coupling's Steve.

10:40 pm: Little Britain on BBC America.

If you missed this outrageous sketch comedy's third season, here's your chance to catch it from the beginning. Don and Pat visit their favorite Indian restaurant but Don is craving some extra spice.


Anonymous said…
The webisodes are a fun idea but I can definitely do without them...especially if they are taking away from the creativity (or budget) of the show. And sometimes less is more. It's frustrating when a good show suffers because of overexposure (cough, Entourage, cough).

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