Broadcast networks have tried Webisodes tied to their prime-time series before. But there's something different about ABC’s new six-episode slate tied to its offbeat sitcom Happy Endings.
For starters, the Webisodes have high production quality, and they feature the show’s entire cast rather than just secondary players. The Webisodes’ content also features an original—not found on the cutting-room floor—plot, and there is no awkward, far-from-subtle product placement. That’s close to revolutionary for TV on the Web.
The first of the six Webisodes, dubbed Happy Endings: Happy Rides, debuted on Wednesday, Feb. 29, with a new episode planned for each of the subsequent five Wednesdays. Besides ABC.com, Happy Endings: Happy Rides is being distributed on Hulu and YouTube. Subaru is sponsoring the episodes, with pre-roll ads and zero product integrations.
The plot of the Web content is focused on a series of flashbacks, as the main characters reflect on moments such as when they met and when several couples went on first dates. A handful of the Webisodes have been directed by cast members, including Adam Pally, Zachary Knighton and Casey Wilson.
ABC’s has experimented with Web series tied to its network hits before, including a recent Grey’s Anatomy offshoot as well as an upcoming show tied to the procedural Body of Proof. But Happy Endings: Happy Rides might represent a creative peak.
“These could easily be full episodes on the air,” said Karin Gilford, ABC’s svp of digital media. “The idea was that this wasn’t something derivative. The cast really felt like there was a story to be told and wanted to do a little bit extra. They were really into it.”
So was Suburu, which didn’t try to force its way into the Web shorts. The brand actually chose to sponsor Happy Endings based on its expected “emotional resonance to consumers and contextual relevance to the brand," according to Gilford.
ABC typically tries to find sponsors for its Web shows, though it's not necessary that a brand underwrite an online original. The key is a willing cast with the time and creative buy in from producers. “A lot of moving parts have to come together, and in this case they all did," said Gilford.