The Guardian continually demonstrates itself to be head and shoulders over just about every news site and newspaper around, especially when it comes to thoughtful commentary about TV ands its future. Case in point:
by Jack Seale
Young people are losing touch with TV. An Ofcom survey last year found that Brits under 25 had reduced their consumption of broadcast television by a third since 2010. The rapid rise of YouTube stars proves the internet is now where new talent launches itself, but proper, traditional telly has the money and reach to attract online performers to the platform. The web is both an existential threat and the well of ideas that constitutes TV’s best hope of survival.
“YouTubers’ chief threat to broadcasters is that they appear authentic and unmediated,” says Robin Parker, web editor at industry journal Broadcast. “They are found or recommended by peers. Low production values are part of that charm: a children’s TV producer once told me that the mix and match of YouTubers was today’s equivalent of the old Saturday-morning magazine shows.”
Online does have a strong track record of discovering comedies with the chops for TV: High Maintenance and Broad City in the US, and BBC3’s People Just Do Nothing over here, grew out of homemade web series with tried and tested ensembles. But solo performers who don’t have a vehicle nailed down still struggle. Colleen Ballinger’s effort to convert her character Miranda Sings, a spoof of deluded pop wannabes, into a TV hit ended last year when Haters Back Off! was cancelled by Netflix after two seasons. Haters felt obscure and parochial, as if it still belonged on YouTube; Netflix viewers weren’t sure what to do with it.
While Ballinger said she was devastated by the axing, it must have been some consolation to return to the lo-fi haven of a YouTube channel with 8.5 million subscribers. “Television holds the promise of mainstream exposure, but is that what YouTubers really want?” asks Parker. “With hundreds of thousands of followers online, control of what they put out there, an agent looking after their ‘brand’ and commercial partners beating a path to their door, they may ask: what does TV give me?”
The next in-character performer to try to upgrade viral buzz to regular stardom is Branden Miller, whose creation Joanne the Scammer is an Instagram sensationwith nearly 2 million followers. At first glance, Joanne is a caricature of white women as icy, grasping Ivankas – but she’s also a “messy bitch” whose addiction to “drama” gives her heroic qualities in the eyes of a nothing-to-lose millennial audience. They recognise her compulsion to overshare via selfie videos, support her endless quest to embezzle horny men, and got a kick out of her screaming “ICONIC!” during Alicia Keys’s earnest speech on equality at the 2016 VMAs.
Despite Joanne’s faint echoes of Ali G, Cupid Stunt and Dame Edna, Miller – a gay Floridian of black Puerto Rican descent, brought up by white adoptive parents – feels like a new kind of talent who makes TV look old and in need of assistance. Joanne is rough, cathartic, hard to pin down. “There’s so much going on,” says Wolfgang Hammer, president of hybrid TV and internet production house Super Deluxe, who started working with Miller two years ago. “Class, consumerism, race, gender: it’s an endless array of themes our audience really cares about.”
Miller’s loose creation looks suited to the creative collaboration a move to TV requires. “It’s amazing what comes out of his mind when he makes these things,” says Hammer, referring to Joanne the Scammer’s Instagram monologues, “but he’s not a writer per se, he’s a performer.” Miller has already moved towards longform content via extended online sketches produced by Super Deluxe, such as the Thelma & Louise spoof Khadi & Joanne, on which he didn’t receive a writing credit. “We know his voice. Performers always have things written for them….”