A Can-Do Little Web Site, On the Hunt for Homegrown Stars
[New York Times,
27 November 2005]
By RICHARD MORGAN
Early this month, about 100 people gathered in a drab room with mismatched chairs at the Anthology Film Archives on the Lower East Side to watch a group of five-minute films, and to choose their favorites. Among the films that were cheered were one that was a lecture on neuroscience and another on a street fight in Williamsburg.
The winning videos, quirky as they may have been, have a future. New episodes of those shows will be shown on Channel 102, a 10-month-old Web site based in New York that selects much of its programming through democratic devices like these public screenings, where viewers vote on their favorites.
The approach, whose offerings can be found at www.channel102.net, has yielded shows like ''Cat News,'' whose anchor is a cat called Smiley Muffin; ''Going Up,'' set entirely in an elevator; and ''Locked in a Closet,'' a riff on cramped urban life.
The formula seems to work for people both on screen and off. ''102 gives all the New York artists out there the ability to make whatever they want without standards, practices, censors, or the need for advertisers and production value,'' said Tony Carnevale, 28, a founder of 102 and a writer for VH1.
Not only artists like the result. Comedy Central has optioned two of 102's shows for an online channel it launched this month. Even more auspicious is the success of www.channel101.com in Los Angeles, which started in 2003 and was the inspiration for Channel 102. Channel 101 turned a major corner last month when its three biggest stars -- Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, all in their late 20's -- joined ''Saturday Night Live.'' Mr. Samberg is an actor; Mr. Schaffer and Mr. Taccone are writers.
''I'm very proud of the fact that we're basically the first people to be hired out of the Internet, on the strength of our own product as opposed to improv troupes or stand-up acts,'' Mr. Samberg said. ''We did it ourselves.''
At public screenings of both channels, talent agents and network representatives are already on the prowl for the next Andy Samberg, according to Dan Harmon, a founder of 101. The two channels also attract comedians who have already arrived, with Jack Black and Sarah Silverman appearing on 101, and Rob Corddry on 102.
''Its greatest success is its total lack of capitalism,'' Mr. Harmon said. ''The currencies of ego, creativity, Samaritanism and talent are worth much more as legal tender.''
Indeed, performers say the big lure for them is the forum's creative freedom. ''It's the opportunity to work with something you know is cool, whether or not other people have picked up on it,'' said Rob Huebel, known best (if at all) as the Inconsiderate Cellphone Man whose skits run during movie previews. Mr. Huebel, 35, is a star in a 102 show called ''Shutterbugs,'' about ruthless talent scouts who handle child actors with brutally adult professionalism.
On Channel 102, Mr. Huebel said, ''You can do anything. And it can be anyone doing it -- some N.Y.U. kid or some married dude on the Upper West Side. It's so open, as long as the material is good.''
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