Funny thing: Awards shows represent everything that’s gone wrong with Hollywood, but on Saturday night, an awards show captured what feels right about the fledgling web TV industry.
It was the very first Streamy Awards, sponsored by Kodak and presented by the newly minted International Academy of Web Television, formed late last year to try to give some institutional structure and heft to the scattershot world of web TV.
Several hundred people filled the Wadsworth Theatre in West L.A. to watch the Academy give out 24 awards in a format that closely followed the Oscar or Emmy ceremonies, down to the mini-red carpet outside the theater. It was a show where traditional celebrities, including Lisa Kudrow and Linda Blair, joined cult-figure web TV stars like Sandeep Parikh and Felicia Day of the tech-nerd comedy series "The Guild."
Inside the auditorium, awards presenters, who included Illeana Douglas and Writers Guild president Patrick Verrone, read comedy bits off the teleprompter before they handed out awards.
But instead of the deadly ennui of the Oscars or Emmys there was an almost giddy spirit to the event — like a joyriding teenager who’d stolen the keys to Mom and Dad’s car. For the band of Hollywood outsiders who managed to pull the evening together, it was clearly a thrill to borrow even the most rote of awards-show conventions.
Predictably, the big winner of the evening was a show with several strands of Hollywood DNA, Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” which won Best Writing for a Comedy Web Series for Whedon. The show’s star, Neil Patrick Harris, also won Best Actor in a Comedic Web Series for playing the musical serial-killing, romantically frustrated Dr. Horrible.
“I feel like the establishment guy,” Whedon said apologetically as he picked up his award. He offered a sanguine view of the web TV industry’s future: “The TV industry right now is in a very funky state and seems to be falling apart. The Internet is coming up — I have no idea where they’ll meet, but I know it begins here, and the people here are creating the bedrock of what’s going to be not just the ‘new media,’ but the media."
The first award of the evening, Best Web Reality Show, also went to a show revolving around a known Hollywood quantity, “The William Shatner Project,” which tracks William Shatner’s adventures. Shatner was not there, but his daughter, Lisabeth Shatner, who hosts the show, got a laugh when she kicked off her acceptance speech with, “I’d like to thank the Academy.”
And Rosario Dawson, who left before her category was up, won Best Female Actor in a Dramatic Series for her star turn in "Gemini Division."
But the lesser-known stalwarts of the web TV world were well represented too. Felicia Day won Best Female Actor in a Comedy Web Series for “The Guild,” and the show, which she created and writes, won for Best Comedy Series and Best Ensemble Cast. Day is emerging as the heart and soul of the Web TV world, with a clever Twitter feed that has an avid following and an easygoing, geek-chic sensibility that seems perfectly suited to the present moment.
Day thanked "all the casting directors and directors and producers who rejected me horribly. And never hired me. And didn’t like the way I looked… Because without them beating me down into the ground and making me depressed, I never would have picked up a pen and written my own thing and did it."
The event was streamed on the Streamys site but not broadcast anywhere, so cursing was allowed, which drove home the lameness of traditional awards shows, with their ridiculous faux-scandals over the naughty words that people in the entertainment business are wont to use when they are being themselves. Speeches stayed mercifully short and felt impromptu — only one winner broke out a list of people to thank.
Say what you will about web TV’s hit-or-miss quality, its too-short episodes, a barely formed audience and still-untested business model — the people who make this stuff love their work with the passion of those who know they will never, ever have to look at an executive’s notes.
Still, the nagging question is why, with the rebellious, fed-up attitude toward Old Hollywood that characterizes the web TV scene, did it turn itself into a capital-A Academy, with all the potential that that brings for pretension and baggage?
“The academy model is not a fresh one,” web academy founder Brady Brim-DeForest conceded at the packed after-party at the Palomar Hotel. “But we decided the benefits are things we needed — first of all, a structure, with some authority behind it, so it can be a ‘resume item’ for members.”
For all the grass-roots cred the web TV world hopes to keep, “this is the entertainment industry,” as Brim-DeForest said. “We had to create an environment that people want to participate in — and that means we had to create some exclusivity.”
Before the ceremony, Illeana Douglas and the producing team of her Web TV company, Brando TV, sat in the empty green room — apparently the rest of the evening’s stars were uninterested in power-lounging pre-show — and talked about their Ikea-Sponsored web show “Easy to Assemble,” which appears close to be being “picked up” for a second season and has a spin-off in the works that will feature Keanu Reeves. (see Q&A with Douglas and Bradley)
“We’re catching this wave and doing a lot of branded entertainment,” Chris Bradley, Brando TV executive producer said. “Our angle is that it’s all very celebrity based — we’re bringing A-List talent, we’re doing fictional stories and we’re afforded a lot of freedom, which we wouldn’t be getting in a more traditional model.”
For Douglas, Web TV “is the new independent film. In fact our next project, the conceit is that it’s a documentary film from the 1970s.”
“A lot of us come from a film background," Douglas said. "The people who are in our web comedies are actors, they are not necessarily comedians or web comedians. All of us bring a film sensibility to what we do… We’re not doing the fat guy falling out of bed."
As the Streamys wound down with the "Audience Choice" award going to, you guessed it, "Dr. Horrible," the crowd moved on to the party at the Palomar Hotel. By midnight, the valet line snaked down three blocks and revved-up partygoers had to push their way inside. There was no food except a table of candy, and it was a cash bar. Still, Web TV’s fat-guy-falling-out-of-bed days seemed numbered.
Related: Slide show of the Streamys