Fast Chat: Julie Warner

Queen of Web series on the joys, perils of getting in on the ground floor

You might remember actress Julie Warner as Chris Farley’s co-star in Tommy Boy, or the object of Michael J. Fox’s affection in Doc Hollywood. Or maybe you were a fan of the late 90’s drama Family Law.

But more recently, the actress has made a name for herself as a go-to for Web series. Last year, she appeared in Supermoms, a branded entertainment show funded by Clorox. Currently, Warner is headlining AOL’s scripted sitcom Little Women, Big Cars—a product of Michael Eisner’s studio Vuguru. And this week marks the second season of Leap Year,  a startup-themed Web show underwritten by the small business insurance firm Hiscox. Warner will make several appearances this season.

Warner spoke to Adweek about how she became involved in Web shows, whether AOL plans to renew Little Women and why the business model for online content is so challenged.

Adweek: You've had an interesting career of late, starring in a lot of Web shows.

Warner: I guess I’m the queen of the Web series. Yeah right. I’m not at all. I’m on Leap Year, and previously I’ve done Supermoms and now AOL’s Little Women, Big Cars. That supposedly did very well.

How did you end up doing Leap Year?

My friend Craig Bierko [an actor] said, “Hey do you want to do a day of work on my friend Wilson [Cleveland]’s show?” So they changed a male role to a female role and I was on board. Wilson [who stars in, produces and promotes Leap Year] was happy with glee. And I was happy.

We shot two episodes in San Francisco. It was one day of work. This year I’m back. And there are a few more big people like Steven Weber and Emma Caufield. It’s a really nice group. Wilson’s kind of a genius.

How did you make a branded entertainment show that wasn't awful?

With Supermoms, my ex-husband and father of my 15-year-old child was a writer producer on that project. We’re both of the mind that we should try and handle these changing times as best we can. He’s very forward-thinking about brand marketing. He had American Dreams on the air [on NBC] and they were telling him that the budgets are too high, so they started doing product placement like the old days they did on TV. All of a sudden you had one episode had a lot of Campbell’s soup. He’s very smart, very aware of the changing times, of advertisers' problems, our ability to speed through commercials. My dad's a jingles producer. And I grew up with advertisers.

I get sad when I see this. I mean, I understand why. But that’s the revenue that’s always supported the TV model. Unfortunately for shows like Supermoms, the pay is so low. We basically don’t get paid. That’s a problem for [this medium] if as actors we don’t get paid. That has to change. Now with Little Women, Vuguru got sponsors like Hefty [trash bags]. I’m sure Hefty paid Vuguru paid quite a bit of money. It’s the same issue.

What can be done?

Everybody I’ve spoken to in the industry is talking about this issue. My agent now has a digital media guy at his company. And everybody’s still trying to figure out how to monetize Web video content. It’s got to trickle down. On these shows I’m working the  equivalent of a movie shoot and I’m getting paid the equivalent of a guest spot of CSI. It’s ridiculous. You can’t make a living on this. I‘m all for these projects. There’s no bureaucracy. It makes you wonder whether someday I might do my own show. We’re all in this together.