Felicia Day and The Guild: The Web Series That Saved Itself

Curator's Note

How do you save your show before it even starts?  You might want to embrace a new model, self-produce the show with the help of your interactive fans, bring it to the wild frontier that is the Internet, and work it on the web to amass a large set of followers using an audience collaboration model and the power of Twitter.  

This is what i-ingenue and queen of geek-chic, Felicia Day did with her web series, The Guild, a show about a gaming posse that blossomed out of Day's obsession with The World of Warcraft.

In terms of breaking into television as a star, Day was a new breed, virtually unknown in the world of A-listers.  Instead she was proving herself to be a self-made cyber-star, the web's ingenue, a major player amongst the nerds and i-listers (Internet folk).  Honest and accessible -- wearing her avatar heart on her digital sleeve -- Day was emerging as a Twitter goddess with the mind of a gamer.

In an interview with Fast Company, Day mentioned that television studios wouldn't be as interested in her show idea if they didn't think it had a mainstream audience.  She pointed out that in the world of the web, even a niche audience could be millions of people.  So Day engaged her cult following and created The Guild's 5+ minute episodes herself, her way, marketing it organically by cultivating an accessible, honest brand, and tapping in to her enormous social media network.

When the networks saw how popular The Guild was, they came calling, but by then Day had already partnered with Sprint and Microsoft and she had made a deal with XBOX 360 to cross entertainment and gaming platforms.  This also gave Day creative control of her show, something she may have lost if she had signed with a television network.

Five years after the launch of The Guild, Day's i-television empire grows in a medium that is more flexible than tradtional TV, allowing for more creative autonomy, and reaching a global community with a global village mentality.

Day was recently commissioned by YouTube to create a network called Geek and Sundry that plays to her "niche" crowd of millions.  Cancellation?  Never.  This is one i-ingenue with a show that is not in need of saving.


Fascinating post, Stephanie. Felicia Day’s success with building her own distribution model reminds me of the comparable success that Louis C.K. (and now other comics, including Aziz Ansari) has had with foregoing the official channels and selling his stand-up shows directly to consumers via their personal websites.

Thinking further about the stylistic influence of web series on contemporary TV shows, might the minimalist drama and DIY production of Louie, or the voyeuristic intimacy and real time flow of In Treatment, indicate ways in which fictional drama online is preserving a type of artisanal indie aesthetic pushed increasingly to the margins of screen media (mumblecore, art films, video installation work)? Even so, these lo-fi shows are the exception; at the other extreme, as discussed this week, cable series are spiraling into the ever more extravagant reaches of blockbusterdom while broadcast networks are reverting to the populist, the formulaic, the laugh track, the ethnic stereotype (I mean you, 2 Broke Girls)…

Struck also by Stephanie’s reference from Monday to “event television”, the flipside of this next-big-thing ageism is an increasing sense (à la the Internet) of TV series as fleeting, time-stamped, ephemeral…yet increasingly preserved within reach, for a price. To counter Maya’s and my own framing of this theme week around the conflict of cancellation, I pose a philosophical question: Why we are so attached to the notion of series longevity? Is it nostalgia for the days when a primetime drama like M*A*S*H* could outlast a decade? Habitual thinking honed by a TV industry intent on syndication sales and cultural canonization? A monogamous impulse that coddles our inertia and comfort with the familiar? Just because a series is beloved, why should its perceived value or the experience it provokes be undermined by its having died young and (still) beautiful?  


Maria, thanks so much for this great comment!  So much to consider here!   I think the experience of TV-watching is evolving into something different, and it's evolving so quickly.  Maybe shows get canceled (and should live shorter lifespans) because television quality and reputation has improved (premium stations manufacture "film-quality" television).  With a rush of talented actors/writers all clamoring to get involved, the networks have a lot of pressure to cater to shorter, digital-age attention spans, and they have the means to do so, with the influx of creative support and talent (also new methods of distribution and opportunities to overlap narratives via other media and the Internet).

Also, with DVD and streaming on mobile devices or at home, we can watch several seasons in bulk.  This changes the way we experience television. We can DVR a show and skip commercials, and we don't have to wait from week-to-week.  Or we could stream a show on Netflix, or download an entire season pass via iTunes.  A season of TV can be packed into a weekend at home with DVDs, and the event is condensed (e.g. 24).

I think the television event used to be more social, involving the whole family, sitting around the TV once a week.  Part of the event was waiting a full week to see the show and only having one TV.  So if there is no waiting period and no weekly television event, then the event has to be the new show and the next big idea. To make room for that next big thing, we have to cancel some beloved favorites.  What does a "season" of television even mean anymore?  A good TV show plays like an extended film (think of watching a show like Damages in one 10-hour stretch - it's amazing!).

Another odd thing for me (a person who gets very attached to TV shows and characters), is the changing of the cast on shows like Skins UK & Doctor Who.  I thought I would hate the cast changes, but it seems to refresh the show and allow for the best of both worlds - same show, no cancellation, new event (unveiling a new cast for the audience to get to know and love ).  

I had one more thing to add, but ran out of space.  I'm so glad Maria mentioned Louis CK and his amazing digital distribution methods!  Click here to read about his truly innovative television web platform in Fast Company.  From the article:

"The edgy comedian recently decided to self-produce and -distribute his latest standup special via the web. By building his own online distribution platform and selling the video of his routine for $5 himself, he forwent taking the traditional route of partnering with a major studio. The question now isn't whether the comic has found an innovative new business model for the industry--but whether he might open up his web platform to other aspiring comedians, who could take advantage of the service to create a new source of revenue and promotion.

For C.K., the risk has certainly paid off: His performance at Manhattan's Beacon Theater was a blockbuster, with 50,000 people purchasing access to the video online just hours after it went on sale. Within days, C.K. had sold more than 110,000 copies of the performance, enough to pay off all production costs and earn him a cool $200,000 in profit."


 One other quick comment: Maria mentioned the "voyeuristic intimacy and real time flow of In Treatment" and I think this is key!  Felicia Day begins every episode of The Guild by speaking directly to her camera as an endearingly candid, casual, lo-fi prologue (it's seemingly in real-time, and it's also voyeuristic, giving us a glimpse into her bedroom, etc).  I do  think this is a distinctive indie-web feature and it makes the i-television experience seem more human and distinctly separate from the big networks, (e.g. shows like 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang, etc, that are distancing themselves from their audience by reverting back to older and more standard formats, blockbuster techniques, and the laugh tracks and stereotypes that Maria mentioned in her comment.)

Stephanie--Fantastic bookend to our week of cancellations. The Guild's 25 million viewers (or was it 150?) per episode confounds, for me and surely network executives, discussions of broadcast ratings. As to the up- to-the-minute evolution of TV watching, Netflix's full release model seems long overdue--it's about time production has caught up with the public's voracious viewing habits.

Maria--Your eulogy for the short lived show points to how current television watching is defined by a collective compulsion. There seems to be as much excitement in discovering a series and then watching all 5 seasons in a weekend as there is in the despair of a favorite show being cancelled (and then watching all 3 seasons in a weekend as an act of mourning). Once monogamous viewers of "event" and "appointment television," TV audiences have adapted well to their current polyamorous relationship.

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