As creators of new web series content, we’re constantly excited by the multitude of diverse female-focused series on the web. It would seem that the internet affords us viewers with styles and situations we can’t find on television and in turn it would seem that the most successful series tend to bring something very unique to the table. As we began pre-production on our new series Sisters of Mercy, with a focus on women and diversity as well as storytelling, we looked to some of our favorite series for inspiration. Here’s a list of five, how they inspired us, and why we think they’re worth a watch for any web creator.
Burning Love is a technically brilliant parody of the Bachelor that has run for three seasons skewering everything from the banality of reality tv competition to the wild personalities of those drawn into the spectacle.
With its massive success and involvement of Hollywood A-liters, the ‘inspiring diversity’ angle of Burning Love is often overlooked. Still, at its core Burning Love is created by Erica Oyama and was a brilliant way to highlight female comedic performance. By latching onto the ‘Bachelor’ parody concept Oyama opened a door to fifteen comic actresses, a number that dwarfs the big Hollywood success of Bridesmaids. Also, through its bombastic tone and multi-season arcs it has allowed these actresses a chance to perform the kind of strange, over-the-top humor that has mostly been the providence of male performers online. The abundance of talent on display in Burning Love definitely defeats the notion that the world has a lack of talented funny women.
We think creators looking to focus on women and diversity should look to Burning Love and its building blocks. Oyama saw The Bachelor as popular, female-friendly and woman filled form of entertainment and built and sold her own idea around it. Sometimes the outlets for diversity can be right in front of you, in places you least expect them.
Nikki and Nora is a fun P.I. romp with a twist: the detectives are a lesbian couple. Set on a backdrop of New Orleans, the first season delves into the music scene and all the fun and danger inherent in detective work.
The story of Nikki and Nora is a classic example of the struggles involved with getting diverse content on air. Originally shot as a pilot in 2004 but not picked up, the show leaked online found a fan base among lesbian viewers desperate for content. Creator Nancylee Myatt stuck with the project in the interim, eventually got back the rights and found a home for it online.
Nikki and Nora is a great example of how a relatively traditional genre story can get so much flavor from diversity. There are plenty of female detective shows out there but making the leads lesbians adds a dimension to the storytelling that puts it a cut above cable drama. By pairing with the lesbian content platform Tello Nikki and Nora also found a way to focus on and reward its loyal diverse fan base, as well as provide a strong, traditional series backbone for a fledgling content stream.
Web Creators should see the struggles and successes of Nikki and Nora and Nancylee Myatt as a template for commitment to a creative, diverse idea. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of web series and bail on a project that’s not getting heat but creators shouldn’t be so quick to bail. Nikki and Nora proves that even years later, with the right audience, an idea can be a success.
Pursuit of Sexiness is, as advertised, a story about two young black women looking to get laid, get jobs and be happy. Both girls quickly find that actively taking charge of their lives can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.
Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata are the best. Fans of web series couldn’t help but yell out a “Ha! Told you so!” when Sasheer was recently added to the cast of Saturday Night Live but we definitely hope her work there doesn’t overshadow the great work she’s done online.
The secret to ‘Pursuit of Sexiness’ is that the humor is played raunchy, personal and strange in a way that wouldn’t fly on network TV. That said, Byer and Zamata inject the humor with their own comedic skill and broad appeal that ensure the episodes are endlessly shareable among a young audience. The diversity of its leads is important to the storytelling but their focus is on fast and furious laughs so even the biggest skeptics of humor among women of color can’t help but quickly be won over by their antics.
Many creators worry that by including diverse female talent, they’ll alienate the white male audience distributors and advertisers are after. Pursuit of Sexiness co-opts the language those desired viewers already speak, raunchy sex comedy, and adds diversity to the narrative finding something more in the process.
My Gimpy Life is a semi-autobiographical comedy starring wheelchair-bound actress Teal Sherer. The normal travails of a working actress and disabled woman turn cartoonish when mixed together and Teal is often forced to comedically confront the prejudices of other as well as her own issues.
Creating content with a focus on diversity often means walking a fine line confronting your audience with their own prejudices. Few people walk this line as well as Teal Sherer and Gabe Uhr do in ‘My Gimpy Life’.
The series is fully focused on living with disability and the prejudices of the world towards it but Sherer and Uhr confront those prejudices with a humor so stark and black it takes you off guard. As Teal confronts idiocy in the world the visceral awkwardness and laughs immediately draw the viewer to her character. This artfully allows an insider’s view without intense shame or judgement while also illuminating issues and prejudices able-bodied viewers may never have considered.
It’s easy to see why a creator might get worried that a focus on diversity could alienate an audience. My Gimpy Life makes a confrontational comedy with the audience very much in mind throughout the process. By making a character that is ‘other’ but understandable and connected to the audience, Uhr and Sherer create a deeper connection than a show that sidelined the issues of diversity could manage.
Bee and Puppycat tells the strange story of a girl who discovers a super-naturally powered cat/dog at a low moment in her life and is propelled into intergalactic battles with her new companion.
As creators of a Superhero series we’d be remiss to not include one on our list and Natasha Allegri’s ‘Bee and Puppycat’ will always have a place in our hearts. Allegri’s success is often wrongfully attributed to her connection to ‘Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward but fans of Allegri have known she was destined to be a strong, female creator for a long time. Allegri has been a staple of comics blogging since the days of livejournal and whether intentionally or not she capitalized on something Female Creators often have the edge on: The day-to-day interests and emotions of her viewers. Allegri’s fan base is invested in not only her art but her personality and success so when she presented Bee and Puppycat as a possibility her fans coalesced to push her kickstarter $200,000 above its goal. Thankfully so far they’ve been rewarded with a show featuring the same humor, style and connection Allegri has always offered in her work.
The web offers a lot of opportunity for diverse creators, not only in the series they make but in the platforms they use to promote themselves. Bee and Puppycat is a great series but also offers a lot of insight into the kind of fan base a creator can make with pre-production content and connecting early with their audience as an artist. There will always be an audience hungry for diverse content so connecting with them early and often can be the key to a deeper, meaningful success with your series.