Web-Only TV Shows Take Advantage Of Their Venue

Online videos are getting closer and closer in quality to shows on TV. A new web-only series by Kevin Spacey is going up on Netflix next year. Maura Tierney, who starred in ER and is on CBS's The Good Wife, is also featured in a new web-only series on YouTube. The best web-only shows are a lot like TV, but take advantage of the intimacy of the Internet.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The big names in Internet video - YouTube, Hulu and Netflix - are thinking big. They're trying to make TV, or at least Internet videos that are as good as the best original TV shows. They're even using big stars, including Kevin Spacey and America Ferrera. TV critic Eric Deggans says some of them pull it off.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: YouTube may never get over its reputation as the home of the keyboard cat. They probably prefer you show up for "Ruth & Erica," a new series on its female-centered WIGS channel. Former ER star, Maura Tierney, plays Erica, a middle-aged woman watching a late-night infomercial with her dad, Harry.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUTH & ERICA)

PHILIP BAKER HALL: (As Harry) Looks like my brother, that guy.

MAURA TIERNEY: (As Erica) Uncle Denny?

HALL: (As Harry) Yeah. Maybe he would be a good man for you.

TIERNEY: (As Erica) The dehydrator guy?

HALL: (As Harry) Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey, he's serious about his work, looks good, well spoken.

TIERNEY: (As Erica) I don't think so.

DEGGANS: But Harry is slipping into dementia and Erica's trying to cut through her mother's denial. Here, the two women clash over whether Harry should be allowed to drive.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUTH & ERICA)

LOIS SMITH: (As Ruth) The man has never had an accident, never even gotten a parking ticket.

TIERNEY: (As Erica) But he fell asleep at a stop sign. What if somebody steps off the curb and he doesn't see them? You have a handle on that, too, mom?

DEGGANS: It's an emotional portrait of the moment when the child becomes the parent. The WIGS channel is bursting with these stories led by female characters often played by big names, like Jennifer Beals or Rosanna Arquette. These are intimate stories told in small touches. Each episode is just over seven minutes long and what characters don't say matters nearly as much as what they do. In fact, you can watch many shows' entire seasons in under an hour.

Another path to success online comes from characters doing stuff in videos you can't wait to share with your friends. So in that vein, let's meet superstar crisis manager Jim Dunnigan, explaining his expertise to a skeptical corporate honcho.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SUIT UP")

MARC EVAN JACKSON: (As Jim Dunnigan) Do you remember the finger-licking good sexual harassment scandal? Areas 52 through 54, the year we had two New Year's Eves? No, you don't because I made each of those go away. Do I have your permission to continue?

DEGGANS: Dunnigan is the lead character in Yahoo! Screen's hilarious sports satire, "Suit Up." And he faces a huge challenge, helping the football program at fictional Glory University when its God-fearing quarterback accepts gifts from its top booster.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SUIT UP")

JACKSON: (As Jim Dunnigan) So how do we solve this? First, we suspend our quarterback for two games. Yes. We need to prove that Charlie and Glory take this very, very seriously. Charlie takes his penance, gets out of the limelight for a couple of weeks, comes back pure as the driven snow. It all blows over.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He's right. It's the Christian thing to do.

JACKSON: (As Jim Dunnigan) I don't know what that means.

DEGGANS: It's a spot-on satire of the hypocritical unholy alliance between college sports, politics and big business. And parts of it were so funny, I couldn't wait to email it around to my buddies who live for college football. But having a big TV name doesn't always guarantee a great result for another high-profile series on Yahoo! Screens, "Cybergeddon." "CSI" creator Anthony Zucker also developed this series.

A great-looking, but pretty predictable story about a government agent framed by a master cyber criminal. It aims to be a cross between a Web series and a video game, but it's more like a supped up version of a Lorenzo Lamas action movie. It's an important lesson. Sometimes bad TV is just bad, whether you're watching it on a laptop or the biggest home theater system money can buy.

CORNISH: Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

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