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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's an unusual first, a musical comedy written for and released exclusively on the Internet by a very successful television writer. Hundreds of thousands of viewers have watched the first two episodes of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" online. Tomorrow, they'll get to see the third and final installment.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports on this surprise hit.

LAURA SYDELL: Dr. Horrible has to practice his evil laugh.

(Soundbite of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS (Actor): (As Dr. Horrible) So that's, you know, coming along.

SYDELL: To look evil, he wears a white lab coat and black goggles on his head. Alas, his slightly frightened-looking blue eyes and pale sun-starved skin make him look more like a baby polar bear - kind of cuddly. Maybe that's why he still hasn't been accepted to the Evil League of Evil.

(Soundbite of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")

Mr. HARRIS: (As Dr. Horrible) But my application is strong this year. A letter of condemnation from the deputy mayor. That's got to have some weight, so fingers crossed.

SYDELL: Dr. Horrible was created exclusively for the Web by Joss Whedon, who also created "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for television. "Dr. Horrible" has the same kind of quirky cult hit feel, but it bypasses television altogether. And Whedon says the Web gave him a new kind of creative freedom.

Mr. JOSS WHEDON (Writer-Director): I'll decide based on what I think we can pull off and how many songs I think we can write and, you know, how much story we have to tell.

SYDELL: It's fun to watch the aspiring evil genius break into a heartsick love song because he just can't seem to talk to a girl he meets regularly at the laundromat.

(Soundbite of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")

Mr. HARRIS: (As Dr. Horrible) (Singing) Laundry day, see you there, underthings tumbling.

SYDELL: Dr. Horrible is played by actor Neil Patrick Harris of "Doogie Howser" and "How I Met Your Mother" fame. Felicia Day from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" plays his love interest, and Nathan Fillion from "Desperate Housewives" is Dr. Horrible's nemesis, Captain Hammer.

Mr. NATHAN FILLION (Actor): (As Captain Hammer): It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible - lacy, gently wafting curtains.

SYDELL: All this talent got together in the midst of last year's Hollywood writers' strike specifically to produce something for the Web, says Whedon.

Mr. WHEDON: Doing that was an effort to send a message to the community that there was another way, that we could create content and ultimately create jobs without the studios.

SYDELL: Whedon won't say exactly how much the production cost, but he says it's in the low six figures. He says they had no idea if Dr. Horrible was going to be a success.

Mr. WHEDON: We didn't really have any marketing. We couldn't afford it. Our publicity department was me and my assistant Natalie.

SYDELL: When the first episode appeared for free on hulu.com this Tuesday, so many people tried to watch it that the server crashed. Whedon says they were getting about 1,000 hits a minute. When the second episode came out yesterday, it was just as popular.

Mr. PAUL SAFFO (Technology Forecaster): This is not just fun video. This is what we've all been waiting for.

SYDELL: Paul Saffo is a technology forecaster based in Silicon Valley. He says everyone's been waiting for TV to migrate to the Web. He thinks "Dr. Horrible" is the first truly original Web TV.

Mr. SAFFO: It's completely new. It's not a copy of what we did on TV, and it's not a copy of the things we've been doing on the Web so far. It's a new kind of musical. It's a new kind of video experience. And who would have thunk that Doogie Howser can sing?

(Soundbite of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")

Mr. HARRIS: (As Dr. Horrible) (Singing) Soon I'll control everything. My wish is your command.

SYDELL: Typically, Web productions don't make much money. No one knows if "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" will break that tradition. On Sunday, it will no longer be possible to get it for free. Fans will have to pay $1.99 to download episodes from iTunes. Whedon is also releasing a DVD with lots of extras, including musical commentary.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

(Soundbite of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")

Mr. HARRIS: (As Dr. Horrible) (Singing) ...to a shiny new Australia. It's a brand new day. Yeah, the sun is high. All the angels sing because you're going to die. Go ahead and laugh. Yeah, I'm a funny guy. Tell everyone goodbye.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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