Hulu's first foray into original programming — a reality show called If I Can Dream — premiered today with a 25-minute pilot episode. We've embedded it below so you can watch it right here. The premiere was accompanied by a big roll-out of features that set the series apart from what you've seen on network television.
Live 24/7 video, social networking profiles, and lifestreams all play a part in engaging viewers in the cast members' lives. It's an impressive production, but we get the sense that it's expensive enough that it won't pay for itself unless it becomes a huge hit.
Given all its innovations and refinements on the past ten years of web show experimentation, though, it might actually pull through — especially since it's available internationally. Time will tell, but until it does, we can at least dig deeper to find out how the If I Can Dream machine works.
How It's Unique to the Web
The show's tagline is "Welcome to the New Hollywood." That refers to the show's premise — it's about a group of young artists seeking to become the next big stars in Los Angeles — but it's also easy to read as a mission statement for the show's presentation and model.
The house that the five cast members will live in is equipped with 50 cameras that will live stream to the web for free 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's accessible at ificandream.com, and it's accompanied by a ticker at the bottom of the site that announces when and where interesting events will be happening along with the current weather and time in LA where the house is located.
The cast's Twitter, Facebook and MySpace accounts are linked and chock full of content. The music they're (supposedly) listening to will stream on iheart radio. Short clips will be posted on Hulu every day.
In an interview at the Hulu blog, executive producer Michael Herwick summarized the project this way:
It's about creating sort of a 21st century platform for legitimate, up-and-coming talent. It's such a broader form of entertainment, where you have the 24-hour live streams, you have the weekly episodes on Hulu, and you have all this video-on-demand content. It's very interactive and it's very much in tune with what young people are doing these days. They digest the internet, they're socially interactive, and they're shooting their own videos on YouTube and getting discovered. We're just saying that's where it's at right now, and we're creating a project around that.
How It's Like Network TV
That web content is all in addition to the full episodes that will be posted to Hulu every Tuesday morning. The first two will focus on introducing the cast members as they travel the world to promote the show. The episodes are actually notable for how different they are from other made-for-web-video; their production values and presentation are similar to what you'd expect from a cable or network TV show.
That's because the project is the brainchild of Simon Fuller, the reality TV producer who developed Pop Idol and American Idol. If I Can Dream is thematically similar to those shows in that its focus is on aspiring performers trying to make it in LA. Four of them are unknowns, but one of them — singer-songwriter Justin Gaston — is somewhat famous for having dated pop star Miley Cyrus and worked as an underwear model. He has over 100,000 followers on Twitter.
As with many other reality shows, though, auditions for future roles are ongoing. If you're young, talented and beautiful, you can upload MySpace audition videos to try to become the next resident of the If I Can Dream House.
If I Can Dream is not the first reality show to offer live streams of the house; Big Brother did so several years ago. But If I Can Dream is doing it for free thanks to some clever ad deals. There are brief ads you have to watch when you start a stream and there are some sponsorships, too. For example, Justin will perform music at arranged times in a room called the Pepsi Blue Room.
Watch the Premiere
Here's the premiere episode, "The Journey to Hollywood Special." Enjoy, and let us know what you think of this (fairly) new approach to web TV in the comments.
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