Urban Bedtime Stories, 2001
On Monday November 5, 2001, Urban Bedtime Stories premiered on Manhattan cable with synchronized web-based audience interaction in which - YOU - the TV viewer/'net user starred in the show.
In 2001, I resigned from my full time Information Architect job to produce this project. I conceived of it too. It was intended to be a fine art/performance project, but the commercial TV world took notice. The narrative had a strong protagonist, bettyx1138, with a solid story that would accommodate an interactive TV program led by her each episode; The characters would break from the script within the context of the story and talk to TV viewers at home on video cams and live chat. That the improvised dialogues between characters and viewers are contextually relevant is vital to this format. Without this factor the viewers would not become a part of of the story and interactions would be gratuitous. I think I succeeded where no one has yet even in 2012.
TV industry people noticed and the Guardian in the UK wrote an article about it and me in both their online and editions. I was even offered agent representation. I got some flattering attention. I was invited to join the NATAS, the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences. This also led to my next job as Interactive TV Producer for MMUSA (later Fuse) where I helped get the interactive TV program Dedicate Live! off the ground. More about that in a minute.
I pitched UBS to Cablevision and to ABC. Nothing like it existed already to prove that this format was commercially viable. And, they thought it would only work as a live broadcast - no reruns. Funny story - an ABC VP staunchly believed that neither adults nor kids - especially not kids - would watch a TV broadcast and simultaneously interact with it on the web. Granted, it was 2001 and he cited his corporate "studies", but my intuition knew then and knows NOW that if viewers watching a TV broadcast could interact with characters on a live program and become for a moment a character in the fictional program - it would be brilliant!
I have a stack of scripts for more shows in the series. I just need funding. Please ping me if you can help fund more of these programs.
Dedicate Live!, Fuse TV (nee MMUSA) 2002
Dedicate Live! was a MMUSA music video TV show in which the kids at home would choose from a set of popular videos on a webpage starting 30 minutes before the show was to air and throughout the show and write "To" and "From" messages with dedication comments to their friends or frienemies. We, as a group, in the office in Manhattan, would screen the quality and quantity of the video dedications and program the show on the fly. So, a kid could submit a clever dedication during the show and it could be on air within a minute of him submitting it on the website.
I was hired to help get this show from an executive idea to live, working TV program. I worked closely and well (I'm still in touch with some of them) with TV producers and executives with little web or interactive experience. They needed guidance on how to coordinate the vendors and how the idea would turn in to a real thing. We worked with a web data vendor who built the website where the kids would choose the videos; They had to build a site that the Associate Producers (APs) could easily administer - specify which videos the kids could choose from that day. The website would go live 30 minutes before airtime to start collecting viewer dedications.
Another vendor built the data-to-air software that took the data feed from the web and displayed it in proprietary software with the feature that APs could mark the "best" dedications. Then, the Producer, sitting in the middle of the APs so s/he could communicate with them all verbally too, would read the dedications marked by the APs and decide which videos to play and which dedications to play over the videos. The producer could change videos and/or dedications up until the the last minute based on what the kids at home were submitting. This was fun for kids watching at home, as they would sometimes see dedications they entered on air within minutes.
I directed the user experience of the website taking in the kids' input, the proprietary data-to-air program (I even got to go to the mega Cablevision broadcast facility on Long Island to see how the software integrated there), and the system by which the APs and producer screened the content to determine the most useable material, and more importantly I contributed to driving the execution of these things. It was one of the most fulfilling jobs I've done.
After Dedicate Live! I interviewed at a few big corporate TV places in NYC but the rigidness I encountered did not hold my attention and I went back to more conventional information architecture and UX after this. Although, I'd love to do jobs like this again!