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Web Series Attract Growing, Loyal Fan Bases

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While millions of viewers tuned in to see the network television return of Mad Men earlier this month, high budget television shows aren't the only serial dramas that are drawing lots of devoted fans. Thousands of Web series -- television shows that are filmed to air only on the Internet -- are now covering the gamut of TV favorites: cooking shows, super-hero comedies, and high school dramas.

Susan Miller, a New York writer who's part of the writing team behind a web series called Anyone But Me, was a successful playwright and television writer before she discovered web series.

"People garden; this is like gardening," she says. "I mean, this is as close to getting my hands into that soil as I've ever done."

For Miller, web series are a sort of new frontier, where creators have a pure connection between their product and their audience. Her show is one of the medium's greatest success stories -- it has more than 11 million views all over the world, and it's inspiring other writers to put their work on the Internet.

One of the fascinating things about web series is that viewers expect to communicate with the creators, and they expect their opinions to be taken into account.

"Web series people want things fast," says Kathryn O'Sullivan, whose new Western web series, Thurston, is filmed largely in a closed down Old West theme park in Virginia. "People get on Twitter, and people get on Facebook and you're instantly finding out people's reactions to an episode that just aired maybe 15 minutes ago."

There are some other distinct challenges for web series. For one thing, people usually view the shows on small screens -- on a computer, or even a cell phone. This gives rise to all kinds of new questions about filming.

"Well, do I just have to go to close-ups now, do I avoid the wider shots," she says. "What are people going to see?"

Neither Miller nor O'Sullivan really believe that network television is going to disappear. Instead, Miller says, people should start to think about web series as indie television.

"Theater, film, television, web," she says. "It's just an expansion of the arts. It's not a substitute."

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