Why TV should pay attention to YouTube’s Thrash Lab Channel and ‘Comment Counselor’

By Natan Edelsburg 

As the web evolves and matures we’ve begun to cover more shows that are not on traditional TV. For example, Battleground and The Yard are two must see shows from 2012, that aired exclusively on Hulu in the US, not a traditional TV network. In May YouTube pitched their brand new TV-like channels to advertisers during the traditional TV upfronts. Now Ashton Kutcher’s Thrash Lab YouTube Channel and Eric Finley are showing off what the future of comedy will look like with “Comment Counselor.”

Comment Counselor “follows the misadventures of a high school junior guidance counselor, Mr. Eric Finley,” describes the star of the show Aaron Eisenberg. “After he makes a ‘100 impressions in 5 minutes’ video,” that gets trolled on YouTube he finds each trolls IP address and “ambushes them with surprise therapy sessions.” Think Summer Heights High meets In Treatment meets YouTube. Eisenberg, his brother Will and co-creator Michael Lewen were winners in a competition run by Ashton Kutcher’s company Katalyst to populate their new channel.

The show is off to a great start since it’s launch in October and has already had Rebecca Black guest star. They were even featured in the number seven spot on one of EW’s recent “Must Lists.” As the year wraps up, this show has proven that YouTube originals are here to stay and that advertisers looking for new comedies to integrate with should check out this channel, curated by one of TV and tech’s biggest stares @aplusk. We interviewed Eisenberg about the launch of the show, his inspiration from shows like Parks and Recs and his hustle to grow his show from the ground up.

Lost Remote: What’s the show about how’d you come up with it?
Aaron Eisenberg: Comment Counselor follows the misadventures of a high school junior guidance counselor (played by me) after he makes a “100 impressions in 5 minutes” video that gets viciously trolled on YouTube. Instead of letting his haters get him down, Finley decides to do the only sensible thing there is: Find these folks’ IP addresses and ambush them with surprise therapy sessions. It is very silly and very weird.

The idea for the show was a joint effort between myself, my brother, Will, and our co-creator, Michael Lewen. We wanted to make a webseries that was layered in concept, so we kind of went the meta route and explored the idea of doing a show on the internet about a failed internet celebrity. Then we were lucky enough to have real internet celebrities guest star (Tay Zonday, Glozell, and Rebecca Black are among the characters Finley pals around with). Then all of our heads exploded.

LR: How’d Ashton Kutcher get involved? How is he involved?
Eisenberg: Ashton’s company, Katalyst, was given one of the 100 new YouTube funded channels last year. This channel, Thrash Lab, set out to find new content creators they’d be interested in collaborating with for original programming. Their scouting process was actually a web docuseries in and of itself called “Dream Bigger”. Long story short, we were participants in that competitive filmmaking show and made it through several rounds of pitches before being selected as one of its three winners! The result was a fully funded series, exec produced by the Katalyst/Thrash team. Ashton personally had some great ideas that helped sculpt the show into what it eventually became. He was pretty instrumental in having us use real YouTubers as Finley’s confidants. It’s been an amazing opportunity to get creative feedback from people with tons of experience. We’re crazy lucky.
How is YouTube involved? How do you thing web video is changing TV?

Well, beyond the Thrash Lab connection, YouTube has huge thematic involvement in Finley. Our show is a sitcom about internet trolling and its effects on people. I’m sure that doesn’t sound hilarious, so that was really an A+ sell on my part! But the bottom line is entertainment has now been permanently changed to an interactive business. You do not get to see a movie in a theater, talk to it, and have the actors and director respond. But web video brings with it a new age where one’s personal comments/criticism/enthusiasm is what directly affects the future of a online series. We try to connect with our viewers on several social media platforms. If you tweet @mrericfinley, I can guarantee our character will respond with something characteristically asinine. And if you troll his videos, he may well want to have a deeper conversation. It’s a fun, real collaboration between creator and audience. So far as I can tell, that relationship is going nowhere.

LR: Does your show have any traditional TV tie-ins besides Ashton (who’s a TV actor) being involved?
Eisenberg: We knew we were making an internet series, but we looked to some of our favorite TV shows for inspiration! I think our semi-mocku style brings to mind some of NBC’s comedies these days. It’s a little Parks and Rec-y. Having the YouTubers play exaggerated versions of themselves was something that we lifted from Curb. The tricky thing with web is attention span. To do a 6ish minute show on a site whose most successful videos are less than half that timewise–it’s a challenge. That said, we wanted to stay true to our goal of creating a show that was character based and had a season arc. To balance plot points with the fact that these episodes need to also stand alone wasn’t super easy, but damn if we didn’t try!

LR: Anything else?
Eisenberg: In addition to the 5 episodes we’ve shot (one more coming next Sunday), we also have some extra content on our YouTube channel. Interviews with the guest stars and such. Oh, and Finley’s “100 impressions” video is for real. It can be found on our page under “Favorite Videos”. I implore you: Watch that thing. Truly horrendous, legitimately trolled, and unbelievably embarrassing.