HOLLYWOOD - For the past year or so, amid angsty teenagers talking into their Web cams and skateboarding dogs, you could find professionally made Web series scattered around if you knew where to look, and when. (Ever see "Clark and Michael"? Or "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"? They're still there - go give them a try.)
But there's a critical mass approaching: Hollywood is bringing out what you might call the first "new season" of spiffy, corporate-backed series designed to be watched on your computer.
There's a clear line between amateur "user-generated content" and the new wave. On one side, you have the YouTube revolution in all its rough-edged glory. On the other are slick productions coming from Web teams at Warner Bros., Sony and HBO, and from hopped-up bands of writers and directors motivated by the writers strike to land corporate sponsorship and create shows. Many can boast celebrity names on camera, behind the scenes or both.
The professionalism of the new Web series comes at a price. Just like regular TV, you can't escape the commercial element. Some are "branded entertainment," in which the creators have struck a deal with a sponsor to integrate the product into the show. At this early stage, the debate among those involved is how to make that corporate presence feel "organic" to the show, not tacked on. It's a raging debate for TV and movies, too, but on the Web the stakes are higher - because if you annoy users, clicking away from a site is easier than changing the channel on a TV.
So what does a Web series look like?
At this point, the main characteristic linking the various kinds of shows vying for your clicks - scripted and unscripted dramas and comedies, talk shows, news shows, animated shows - is brevity. The range seems to be from 1 1/2 -minute bites to 10- or 11-minute snacks, with three minutes emerging as the length a la mode. Such blink-and-they're-over shows rely on super-fast editing: short scenes, quick transitions (or no transitions). But some shows are shrugging off that conventional wisdom about the automatic ADD of Web viewers and letting rip for eight to 10 minutes - and that gamble seems to be paying off.
Here's a look at a few noteworthy, new Web series:
"LG15: The Resistance" (lg15.com/theresistance)
This is the latest installment of the epic of schoolgirls and secret cults that began with Web sensation "lonelygirl15" and continued with "KateModern." The new show, by creators Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried, will dive deeper into the world of "the Order" - the nasty Freemason-like society that hunts for girls whose blood confers special powers.
"The Resistance," like other Beckett and Goodfried Web series, does not look like its slicker, more expensive Hollywood cousins. With plenty of messy camera movement, rock music and a continued reliance on the Web cam angle that "lonelygirl15" made famous, the show manages an arty, independent feel. Each eight- to 10-minute episode will feature music from an up-and-coming band - a nice grass-roots touch by the co-creators.
"Sorority Forever" (thewb.com/shows/ sorority-forever)
The WB.com's sorority mystery show comes in super-fast-moving three-minute episodes that began Sept. 8 and will continue to be released every weekday until the finale on Halloween.
Yes, spooky things are happening to the sexy sisters of Phi Chi Kappa, a house that keeps its members under constant video surveillance, subjects them to weigh-ins and sports an ominous red door in the basement. But the pledges are, of course, psyched to be chosen for this alpha sorority - except for the pretty, sullen Julie, played by Jessica Rose of "lonelygirl15" fame. Julie is being pressured to join by her older sister, Natalie, and for some reason their mother is insisting, too.
The polished-looking show is produced by McG (better known for candy-colored movies such as Charlie's Angels) and made by Big Fantastic, the team that made the hit-or-miss (mostly miss) Web series "Prom Queen" and "Foreign Body." Their big idea - to take all the usual sorority stuff and give it a sinister underside - is far from original, but it's sturdy.
"Gemini Division" (geminidivision.com)
NBC Universal's much-hyped sci-fi melodrama stars Rosario Dawson as a future cop who discovers an underground world of genetically modified bad guys and the secret tactics squad trying to defeat them.
Among the show's oddities is that it's filmed entirely in front of a green screen, meaning the backgrounds are always static photographs, an effect that bothers the eye and limits the action. And with only four super-short episodes every week, the show can have a hard time picking up narrative steam.
"Blah Girls" (blahgirls.com)
The guys behind Beauty and the Geek, Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg, have gone animated with a celebrity-gossip comedy show featuring potty-mouthed, celeb-obsessed teenagers named Britney, Krystle and Tiffany. Drawn by Todd Goldman, they look like a cross between South Park kids and Powerpuff Girls.
In vibrant three-minute hits, they riff on celebrity news, go on celeb-stalking adventures, and alternately bad-mouth and worship celebrities in impeccable teenspeak ("How can you diss Gwen Stefani? That's, like, un-American.").
The show features two new episodes a week, plus a Perez Hilton-like blog kept by the characters.