Crossing over: the hard road from online to television
RTÉ’s ‘The Commute’ is the latest show to move to TV from online beginnings, after ‘The Hardy Bucks’ and ‘Damo and Ivor’. But the transition for those used to the DIY approach isn’t always smooth
The Hardy Bucks
Andrew Quirke (as both characters) in Damo and Ivor
The Hardy Bucks
The idea that the internet was going to be a breeding ground for making television has been around for years. Now that we have all the tools, the argument goes, anyone can make anything. And sure, Netflix has come along and is making its own drama, but it is doing so using the traditional models of writer rooms and star power. They can experiment that bit more, but they’re not ripping content off YouTube.
A lot of people cite Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy as the starting point of the successful online-TV crossover. Pulling in celebrities for a low-budget online series got Kudrow and fellow writer Don Roos nominated for a string of online awards, before Showtime picked it up in 2010. Drama costs a lot to make, comedy less so, and it is comedy that is making the jump from online to TV.
The Irish hits are there: Damo and Ivor went from a YouTube sketch to its own stand-alone series. The Hardy Bucks started out as online improv, won the RTÉ pilot competition Storyland, was broadcast on RTÉ, and went on to become a feature film.
Recently, RTÉ Two broadcast The Commute, a one-off show by David Coffey, which was shot in cars on GoPro high- definition personal cameras. Coffey previously had a hit with Dan & Becs, and has a DIY self-starting attitude towards making television.
“With The Commute,” he says, “you’d never sell that to a broadcaster in theory, but if you can go out and make it and say ‘I think this works’, and they can see it, that’s a great way to sell a show.”
An easy commute
It worked. Coffey put it on YouTube, and RTÉ saw it and took the plunge. But for every Commute, there are countless other YouTube experiments that don’t make it. Despite the amount of content being produced online, very little gets through the noise.
“The thing is: you have to do both,” says Coffey. He means going down the laborious and time-consuming traditional route of TV pitching and development, as well as taking a chance and doing things yourself.
“There are pitfalls to it all the time,” he says. “People think, ‘I’ve got an idea for a TV show, I’ve a camera, my mates are actors, I’ll go and shoot it’, and it can be a bit of a disaster. That process of development is there for a reason. Not every first draft of a script is good. Not everyone’s mates should be in a TV show. The Hardy Bucks is an exception because they stumbled upon something brilliant.”
“When we were kids, to make TV was very inaccessible and very costly,” says Bill Malone, channel controller for RTÉ Two.
“Damo and Ivor is an interesting one for us,” he says. “They started off doing things themselves, Andy Quirke and Jules [Coll] came up with these characters, and were having fun online with that, and it generated online interest, hits.
“They worked it up. It got better, more honed. Then it became a regular segment on Republic of Telly, got exposed to real TV proper, and the standards TV dictates, and now it’s just finished a six-part series, which has been hugely well-received by its target audience. Some demographics, like 15- to 34-year-olds, 37 per cent share. That is massive. Absolutely massive. It has cut through.”