Noel Rappin Writes Here

Thing I Need To Write About, Part 1: Dr. Horrible

Posted on August 1, 2008

sf tv

It seems like I’m forever mentioning that I’m not posting here as much as I’d like. I said a while back that between here and the Pathfinder blog I’d be posting two to three times a week. Turns out that’s actually been more or less true, just that all of it has been on the Pathfinder side.

I do miss it here, and there are a few big genre/geek things in the last couple weeks that I really wanted to write about here, where nobody can interrupt me.

First up: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I have to admit that I was ridiculously over-psyched about this project from the beginning. Joss Whedon, musical, hapless supervillain, Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion. They didn’t just have me at “hello”, they had me at “h”. Honestly, I was worried that no actual project could live up to my expectations.

Well, a week later, having basically memorized the songs, I’m pleased to say that it’s still fantastic.

I want to talk about this as a business model first, since it lets me put spoilers at the bottom.

  • There’s no question but that this is a huge test of whether online-only content is financially viable. If Joss Whedon can’t turn a buck on this, given his huge existing support and the amount of buzz this show has gotten, then it’s going to be very hard for other established creators to justify web-content. As much as I don’t like judging movies or TV by their bottom line, in this case, if it’s a gold rush, then we’re going to see a lot more of it.

  • That said, it’s not completely clear this has much implication for a more typical web video project, like Felicia Day’s The Guild, which would have a much smaller budget and much less entrenched fan base. I think the main implication is “get it done and get it out there”.

  • A back-of-the envelope guess suggests they haven’t made a profit yet (or not much of one), but almost certainly will shortly. Hard numbers are scarce, two that have been released publicly: Whedon said the budget was “in the low six figures” (and that may be without paying the cast and crew), and that there were about 2 million individual hits on the web site for individual episodes.

  • So.. that’s probably around 500,000 people who streamed all three episodes. No idea how many people have bought it on iTunes yet, but I’d be surprised if it was more than 50,000 and very surprised if it was more than 100,000. Again, no clue what their deal on iTunes is, but I’d be surprised if they got more than about $2 per download of the episodes in a bundle. Add that up, and they are break-even at this point at best.

  • But there are more revenue streams. I don’t know what their arrangement with Hulu was for streaming. There’s merchandise. There will be a soundtrack, and there will be a DVD release. And people are still buying it on iTunes. So in the end, I expect it will more than financially justify everybody’s time, while not exactly being a Scrooge McDuck level of money pile.

That’s more than enough on financial stuff, let’s talk about it as a show. Spoilers ahead, I guess.

  • All three of the main players are great, but Neil Patrick Harris takes it to an entire other level. Really, there’s very little in the entertainment world that I’ve enjoyed more in the last few years than watching Harris methodically take it over. This part is a perfect showcase for everything he does well – it’s dark, it’s light, it’s funny, it’s serious, and he sings amazingly.

  • I’m not really qualified to judge the music, but it’s been stuck in my head for the last couple of weeks, so I’m going to confidently say that it’s pretty catchy. Some great lyric work here.

  • After some back and forth in my head, I’ve come to accept the ending, even though it’s a bit depressing. Here’s why: For about 30 minutes of show, Whedon is deliberately ambiguous about whether Billy Horrible (not his real name) is actually evil, or just playing around. He calls himself Dr. Horrible, but he’s kind of a buffoon (at first), he kind of is creepily stalking Penny, but Captain Hammer is an even bigger jerk, he wants to join the Evil League of Evil, but is clearly squeamish about killing…

  • What works about the ending is that it preserves the ambiguity in the most intense possible way. Horrible is willing to disrupt the event, but flinches at the moment when he could kill Captain Hammer. He’s willing to reap the benefits of being perceived as a killer, but is obviously – given the last line – somewhat ambivalent about it. It’ll be interesting to see where the character goes if and when everybody gets around to another shoot.

Hmm… that turned out longer than expected, no wonder I’m not posting here as often as I’d like.


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