Ashton Kutcher Bringing Interactive ‘Punk’d’-Like Series to the Web

"Prank Lab" will air on Machinima's new premium channel

The guys who brought the world "Punk'd" are bringing their hidden cameras to the internet.

Katalyst Network, the television and film production company founded in 2000 by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg, has partnered with virtual media company Machinima to produce a new show, "Prank Lab," the companies said Wednesday.

The first 40 episodes of the show will air on Machinima Prime, a new premium content channel that officially launched on Aug. 1.

"'Prank Lab' is a celebration of sophomoric humor,"Anthony Batt, president of Katalyst, told TheWrap. "It's a lot of messing around, and we know how to do that kind of programming better than anybody."

Like "Punk'd," "Prank Lab" also will center on hijinks involving unsuspecting targets, but the focus will not be on embarrassing celebrities like Justin Timberlake. Instead, the show will encourage audiences to be more actively involved in the antics unfolding on screen.

"The idea is to take the audience inside how you do these pranks so they become co-conspirators," Batt said. "We're going to allow them to comment on the action and we're going to have our actors respond to the comments. That's something you can't do on television, and it allows the show to become more integrated into the audience's world."

Batt said this is just the first series to be announced as part of the partnership with Machinima and said that if viewers respond to "Prank Lab," Katalyst could create spinoff shows involving the various pranksters.

By partnering with Machinima, Katalyst is aligning itself with the 800 pound gorilla of the internet video space. The streaming and gaming company hosts thousands of videos that attract more than 180 million unique viewers a month.  Last May, it announced a $35 million fundraising round that attracted a substantial investment from Google.

With that kind of audience and programming specifically attuned to the rhythms of web services like YouTube, Batt thinks that new media companies like Katalyst may force the old guard in the movie and television business to sit up and take notice of how the iPad generation is consuming content. 

"Hollywood needs a new set of media executive that understand how to program to digital and mobile," Batt said. "If you look at YouTube, it looks remarkably similar to TV, but there are a lot of nuances, and understanding those differences is the key."