This summer, The CW, that little network owned by CBS, will debut “Backpackers,” a softly comic half-hour about two young men who are trekking through Europe and beyond. Nubile, sexy women, smart and silly, just attach themselves to these two.
What will make this series a little different is that “Backpackers” has been around for awhile on CW Seed, the online site that features a handful of other shows that fit the contours of a lot of digital content.
It’s the first time a CW Seed show has graduated to the comparatively big network but it’s hardly a leap. CW Seed and The CW each reach for young adult audiences, so it won’t be playing to aliens when it moves to TV.
“Backpackers” is fun to watch—the stars, Noah Reid, as Bryan and Dillon Casey, as Brandon, play well against each other, and there’s no laugh track, so the slight jokes don’t get overplayed. These two travel around Europe and eventually beyond, so you see a little of that, too.
The European stereotypes are, well, funny. And the sex stereotypes are, well, a lot more clever than average.
Also, pound for pound there is more sexual talk and innuendo in a 12-minute episode than you’ll see on broadcast television, even more than the aggressively smutty “Two Broke Girls.” Broadcast television generally invents new words or phrases to describe sex acts. “Backpackers” talks about getting laid.
One of the “Backpackers” intro songs rhymes “workin” with “jerkin’ off.” Presumably, on commercial network television, things will be toned down. That is the price of stardom, and I guess, that’s the problem with shows that leave digital space. The erection jokes become just impossible.
In a rather obvious way, this is the difference between broadcast television, with local stations that have to take complaints and file for licenses, and the Internet, where the idea of network standards and practices is, at the very least, not very developed, or not even part of anyone’s tight-ass imagination.
The subplot is that Ryan and his girlfriend decide to spend time by themselves before they get married so that each of them can sow their wild oats. But nice guy/sensitive Ryan can’t quite cheat on Beth as he tours the world. His pal Brandon, however, has no problems whatsoever. Getting laid, and calling it that, is the whole point of the show. Brandon seems pretty good at it.
By and by, Ryan’s journal, in which he writes of his longings for Beth and other deep thoughts, is stolen and makes itself to the Internet. Finding who’s got it becomes the reason the show continues to go to another level.
“Backpackers” premieres with 10 new episodes on The CW Network sometime this summer. The first four episodes contain material from the digital episodes. The six that follow will be brand new.
Online could become an incubator for content that could get a bigger audience. That only works if the content is not neutered when it goes to television.
I can’t wait to see what happens to “Backpackers.” But my bet is that it loses the handful of fans it earned on CW Seed because it is watered down and never gets the bigger handful of fans it could reach through broadcast TV since the show will be missing something.
But not-watering-down things is what the Internet is all about. Watching how the network, advertisers and program producers navigate that could be an interesting summer story. As online grows and over-the-top becomes ordinary business, we’ll be seeing more shows graduate from their online video birthplace to live on broadcast or cable. That won’t work well until somebody figures out how to do it.