> Have you ever thought of using animation or
> filmic episodes to depict the characters? Some of
> the sessions would be great if they were dramatized.
> Many serialized web sites (www.spectacle.com, www.madmind.com)
> do this and it really rocks!!
> There is also another site, "The Couch"
> (www.thecouch.com) where a New York therapist treats
> his patients. The Couch uses a more graphic-intense
> It would be so cool to see pictures of patients
> and the Doctor, and the building where they hang
> out, and shots of San Francisco because it is a
> really beautiful city, and a great setting too.
> Have you ever thought of doing this?
Sure. We've thought of lots of wonderful ways to expand the site. But we made a decision a long time ago (July, 1996) when we started this site that it had to be sustainable. There are many web dramas, some of them truly innovative, which have crashed and burned because they spent too much money.
The Spot was the first web drama of which I was aware, and it featured a lot of photographs and a huge audience. It aimed squarely at a "Melrose Place" audience. But it died because its creators, American Cybercast, thought they could use The Spot to drive an entertainment empire. They got some funding, including some money from Intel, rented fancy offices in downtown L.A., and hired a bunch of people. I heard that, at their height, they had 5 people who were making more than $150,000 a year--and that's for a web start-up. They filled their offices with Mac computers, which really pissed off Intel. And they produced some interesting content, for a brief time.
The best thing they produced was a program called EON-IV which was highly graphical. It began about a month or so after the launch of The Company Therapist and was funded by Apple Computers. It used a science fiction premise that some earth explorers were able to go through a link set up by aliens to travel with them elsewhere. The link could only send back limited data--which explained the low band-width requirements of the web drama. It was genuinely good in the beginning and then became increasingly silly. But, for awhile, I was visiting every day.
The Pyramid was their last offering. It was also highly graphical with lots of technical bells and whistles. And they had such a large budget, including a huge marketing budget. Unfortunately, it was very bad. With all the glitz, they skimped on the content.
In all the new development, American Cybercast forgot about The Spot. It droned on, but all the creative people who began the show were pulled for American Cybercast's other shows. The fans, led by superfan Harry Zink, staged a walk-out of the site. I wasn't a reader, but apparently the show descended into the truly banal.
When American Cybercast hit the skids, they sold The Spot, including all their intellectual property, past material, characters etc., for a meager $100,000 to another group who made a go of it for about 4 months before they also folded. This was a show that was very popular, with much higher numbers than The Company Therapist, and with real advertisers. There was even a book published. And still the show didn't have any significant monetary value.
Another well-funded (by Warner's Pathfinder) web soap was East Village, which was spending $15,000 a week to create a soap opera that featured film strips of actors for each of the segments. It was kind of like a photo comic book, but with more writing for each panel. The technical sophistication of the show was high, but the writing was of the "She killed my baby!" type. They've shut down.
At the risk of sounding churlish, The Couch was a bit derivative of The Company Therapist. They launched in the Fall of 1996 and they tried to disguise their opening date by starting with Session 20. They were not very graphical--perhaps a photo or two in each session--but their writing was better than that of much of the rest of the field (The Company Therapist excepted, of course). Personally, I disliked much of their navigation and the way that they used hypertext, which was confusing at best. But they also couldn't survive in a zero income environment and went off the air in August of 1997.
Madeline's Mind, which you mentioned, was the designed to take up the excess capacity of a web company in San Francisco. They had some extensive multimedia features. They are also history.
"Spectacle" I hadn't heard of before. But Prophet Communications, its creator, also did the highly imaginative site: Zoloft. This was a mystery set in a vaguely Orwellian future where the viewer wandered through the rooms of a church and used bugging devices to listen in on fragments of conversation. Spectacle looks like it follows a similar pattern in that it updates its content when it wants to, rather than on a set schedule. It is considerably easier to put up a site through an intensive push of work and allow it to remain static, than it is to maintain a site which requires regular updates. While talented volunteers can often be found for a project, they can't be held week after week without compensation. It's the grinding pressure of updating a site regularly that depletes budgets. These things always run at a negative and it's such an easy call for an executive to cancel a negative cash flow entertainment project. It's much harder to justify continuing when there's no realistic hope of a financial return. But everything should not always be reduced to a bottom line. There are certain rewards in producing art that aren't expressed through monetary compensation.
The Company Therapist survives in this environment because it was designed to be sustainable. So long as there are writers who find producing the content rewarding to them in some way and so long as Olga and I are willing to devote the approximately 50 hours a week that the project requires at its current level, we can continue.
We'd like the $15,000 a week for The Company Therapist, and we could certainly spend it in imaginative ways, but it doesn't look like it's in the cards for this show.
We hope The Company Therapist is enjoyable enough at its current level. The Anonymous Faxer and an occasional newspaper article or doodle leavens the text a bit with some graphical content. Laboring in obscurity for free isn't a necessary part of this experience. So if anyone wants to try to persuade Sony or another large corporation that they'd like to sponsor us...
In the fishing for complements category, did anyone notice the Wall Street Journal article that's still being referenced from the front page? We didn't get any comments on that, and we thought it was pretty cool.