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'Personalized TV': Why I Made a Gay Web Series (VIDEO)

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I am a single gay man. I date, and I have sex. I'm not bipolar, or a
murderer, or a drug addict, and I don't toss snappy punchlines into
every conversation. For all the groundbreaking gains that gay
characters have recently made on TV, I don't see myself anywhere onscreen when I go to the movies or flip through channels. Equality is
about a lot of things for me, and in a time when I see proliferating
ads for "quirky" or "unconventional" lead characters on TV, I would
like to jump past the part where we fight for "gay" to be another quirk,
right to the place where it's so normal that seeing us kiss isn't
still controversial
.

I didn't get beaten up as a kid, and I haven't faced a lot of overt
discrimination in my life, but when I went into the entertainment
industry, at some point I looked around and realized that my life had
to be translated and "coded" in order to work onscreen. I have many
straight comedy-writer friends who are lucky enough to have their
lives serve as notepads for TV ideas: "Oh, look what my boyfriend just
did!" "Listen to what my adorable baby said!" "Can you believe what my
wife and I just fought about?" For a good comedy writer, life just
presents itself to you, and your take on it, along with your voice, can
spin it into comedy gold. But for a young gay writer, that
translation is not one to one.

We are living in a golden age of Web series. There has been a
convergence of inexpensive equipment to shoot high-quality video with
technology allowing fast downloads, fantastic home TV screens, and an
entertainment industry that is mired in sequels and remakes, unable to
take risks or think outside the box. It's the perfect storm for the
rise of a new form of cultural entertainment. I think of it as
"personalized television."

Although the TV networks will always be best at big-budget effects and
gorgeous scenery like in Lost and Revenge, there is a very narrow
range of stories and characters on TV, and it has given rise to a wave
of people who yearn to see characters like them onscreen and now have the tools
to make it happen. I watch less and less TV and more and more content
on the Web: on Hulu, Netflix, Blip, Crackle, and Funny or Die, and
when I hang out with my friends now, someone is always queuing up a
YouTube video. The whole landscape has changed.

Scott Zakarin created the first Web series in 1995, called The Spot, the story of a
group of friends in an apartment complex in Santa Monica, sort of a
blog version of Melrose Place crossed with Friends. The stories
were compelling and award-winning, but it was a very different
experience than TV. Flash-forward to 2012, and technology and viewing
habits have caught up to the creative drive, and watching shows online
is no longer unusual. So many people watch Arrested Development on
Netflix that the cult hit show's creators are reviving it and making more
episodes to premiere only online.

I fell in love with my first Web series a couple of years ago,
watching The Guild. Felicia Day created a hilarious show around
some multiplayer-online-gaming geeks who all got together in real
life. Then I loved watching Lisa Kudrow give advice on Web Therapy.
And I was hooked on a new form of storytelling.

I was working in TV myself when I got the bug to make an online
series. There was something about the process of making network
television that I was having an allergic reaction to. It's not just
cars and electronics that the U.S. imports faster than we make them;
it's TV ideas, too. Show after show in development at American
networks is a remake of something that was on the air first in another
country. What's going on? Has the industry completely lost
confidence in its own ability to come up with new ideas?

The world of the Web was exciting to me. It reminded me of the '90s,
when I started my career in indie film; when you could see filmmakers
like Todd Haynes, Eddie Burns, Spike Lee, and Ang Lee telling unique
stories with characters who hadn't been given screen time before; and
when there was a reliable audience who would show up to financially support
them. I think the time is right now for audiences to be able to do
that through the Web, and to support an entertainment economy that
takes risks and tells original stories. That's why I made Hunting
Season
.

I fell in love with a personal blog
that my series is based on that recounted the hilarious adventures of
a single gay man in his 20s, dating in New York City. I loved his
voice, I loved his honesty, and most of all I loved the complete lack
of shame with which he wrote about his sex life. I had gone through a
similar period in my life when I was young and had many exciting
options all around me, but I had never thought to be proud of my
experiences, and I realized I was more than a little ashamed of them.
Did having sex on the first date make me a slut? Was I a failure at
dating?

I realized that these questions were not unique to me, nor to
gay men, but there was a closet door around them for us. The gay
movement is working very very hard to remove sex from gay identity to
move us into broader social acceptance. The first thing anyone thinks
about when they hear the word "gay" should not be sex. But in
sanitizing our identities for the world, we have lost something of
ourselves along the way. We are whole, complete people, with varied
and complicated sex lives. For reasons both artistic and political, I
needed to tell that story, to remind the world that just like everyone
else, gay men have parts of our identity that are formed by sex and
other parts that are formed without it, and seeing us as whole people
is not pornographic, and we shouldn't be ashamed of that part of our
experience.

Since I started this process, I've become a fan of so many other gay
online series, as well, like the delightful storytelling in Anyone But
Me
, about young girls coming to terms
with same-sex relationships in high school; the broad comedy of
Husbands; and the indie cred of The Outs. And the new Jenifer Lewis & Shangela really makes me laugh. There
are clearly a lot of us who wanted to see characters like us onscreen and are
taking matters into our own hands to do something about it.

I think
everyone benefits from this new movement. The world of "personalized TV" is
growing into a new, symbiotic relationship with the audience. The new
model of participatory viewership requires that you find the shows
that speak to you and embrace them, proselytize for them, and support
them any way you can, because that's the only way these shows will
survive. You'll help the world of "personalized TV" grow, and it will
serve you better and better. Even if it can never directly challenge
traditional TV, perhaps it will expand the playing field and increase
who and what is allowed onto it.

* * * * *

My favorite scene in the series is in Episode 5, when the four best friends are sitting around trying to decide where to go out that night, and they end up staying in. TJ and Nick get hold of a personal ad that Tommy has placed, and the night takes a quick turn for the worse.

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