The CW's Struggling 'Backpackers' Blurs The Line Between Web And TV Content

The CW last Monday tried something interesting, if somewhat confusing in the telling. Unfortunately, the effort seems to have failed, at least in terms of early ratings information -- which is not supposed to count for much of anything anymore, according to research executives at many broadcast and cable networks, but that’s another matter.

Anyway, as part of its original summer programming initiative, which is heavy with comedy (including original episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and an upcoming magic series starring Penn and Teller), The CW debuted two new scripted comedies, both imports from Canada -- “Backpackers,” which is based on a popular Web series seen in Canada on and here on The CW’s impressive digital platform CW Seed, and “Seed,” which is not to be confused with CW Seed, known informally as Seed, which makes some amount of confusion inevitable. “Seed” is not a Web series, so it is not a Seed original, but it has been paired with the television version of a Seed show.



Adding to the confusion, the first four television episodes of “Backpackers” are comprised of material edited from “Backpackers” Webisodes. Six additional episodes produced for television will follow -- if “Backpackers” stays on the air. Tonight, The CW is moving "Seed" and “Backpackers” to 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET, respectively, following two episodes of “Whose Line,” in the hope that “Line” might deliver more of an audience to them both. (Last week they were expected to self-start at 8 and 8:30 p.m.)

Presumably, if ratings for these shows remain in the basement, they will be relegated to online status only, meaning the “Backpackers” Webisodes that were already seen on Seed but have been reconfigured into television episodes will again be seen on Seed, along with unaired episodes of “Seed” -- meaning that “Seed” the TV series will be seen on Seed the digital platform.

It’s almost fun writing these sentences. But there is a greater point here. Maybe the names of shows really do matter. Have television executives forgotten the sad story of The WB’s “Jack & Bobby,” one of the best dramatic series of the last decade that was never even sampled because the audience thought it was yet another drama about the Kennedy family? Running a show called “Seed” on Seed is like running a show called “The CW” on The CW.

Another forgotten lesson may be the fate of “Quarterlife,” a Web series created by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (“thirtysomething”) in 2007 that was experimentally edited by NBC in an effort to create a full-blown prime-time television series on the cheap in 2008. “Quarterlife” was very successful on the Web and the media buzz surrounding its transition to television was substantial. It bombed big-time on the network, earning record low ratings.

It may also hurt that these shows are imported from Canada, so they have that slightly off thing that all Canadian shows have when they run in the United States. They look like American shows, and they act like American shows, but not for a minute do they feel like authentic American shows. They just don’t feel as right as they should. (This is a significant issue for much of the programming on Syfy, with its many Canadian imports.)

It’s a shame that “Backpackers” and “Seed” had such a rough entry last week on The CW. I suspect they won’t fare much better tonight. “Backpackers” is admittedly an acquired taste -- and it may be that as with “Quarterlife,” it is an example of a perfectly engaging little Internet property that just doesn’t work on television. That’s worth studying, given the growing opinion on the part of programmers and other media professionals that everything is television and that everything will play just as well anywhere on anything at any time. The fearsome fates of “Quarterlife” and “Backpackers” suggest otherwise. Dare I suggest that is not a bad thing?

As for “Seed,” it is a perfectly harmless, intermittently charming and pleasingly pro-social little comedy that fits right in with the new definition of family friendly viewing and really deserves to be enjoyed by a larger audience. As I watched the first two episodes I couldn’t help but think that this show belongs on ABC Family, now the home of shows about modern families of every kind.

“Seed” is about a carefree and generally unmotivated single man who long ago made deposits at a sperm bank and years later (in the present) inadvertently meets two of the children who share his DNA. That leads to all kinds of comic complications with the kids and the couples who are raising them as their own (one straight couple and one same-sex couple), not to mention his love life. The comedy is lightweight and at times goofy; the lessons and morals are thought-provoking but never heavy-handed.

“Seed” may not be the best comedy to come along this year, but it is far from the worst (think “Bad Teacher,” “Friends with Better Lives,” “Dads” and so many others already mercifully forgotten). It’s also a nicer show than some of the comedies to come (including “Bad Judge,” “Selfie” and others). I fear it’s doomed, but maybe Seed will allow “Seed” to grow.








1 comment about "The CW's Struggling 'Backpackers' Blurs The Line Between Web And TV Content".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, July 21, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    Turn off the idiot tube and read a book.

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