Tuesday, July 16

Endangered Series: _Online show 'The Confession,' hosted by Hulu, lacks special TV elements_

Series has shorter episodes with a more fast-paced plot

It’s amusing to think that if smartphones had existed in the 1950s, people probably would have used them to watch “I Love Lucy.”

The technological conveniences that 21st century audiences enjoy have made the act of experiencing these programs more personal. That means that the strength-in-numbers aspect of show support is subsequently taking on a new dimension.

Strong, coordinated group efforts have saved shows in the past. The 2007 campaign to protest the cancelation of the post-nuclear attack drama “Jericho,” where fans mailed bags of peanuts to CBS headquarters, helped to earn a second season of that program. But with content created solely for online distribution, viewers won’t have to resort to sending nuts to executives in order to show support for their favorite shows.

“The Confession,” which premiered last month on the video streaming site Hulu and stars Kiefer Sutherland (“24″), is not in danger of being canceled. The 10-episode run, detailing the story of a hit man who decides to visit a priest mere hours before a scheduled job, has already been filmed, and release dates have been set.

Matthew Brady, one of the producers of the show, said his production company receives advanced analytics from Hulu, based on a wide range of viewing behavior factors. Where broadcast television uses ratings and film studios measure box office returns, online shows track view counts and the length of time that a given viewer keeps watching before turning the episode off.

Presumably, these numbers are available to the people behind the network and cable shows that allow their episodes to be shown online. But for shows like “The Confession,” this is the primary gauge. For the first six episodes, it’s the only place where it was offered.

Just because Kiefer and friends can now live on an iPhone doesn’t mean it will be the exact same kind of viewing experience.

The production level and the basic look of “The Confession” is designed to be as high-quality as possible so that a change in medium doesn’t mean a jarring shift in the overall look and feel of the entertainment. But there are storytelling necessities that stem from a shorter episode length.

Each episode, varying in duration from five to 10 minutes, is made to stand alone as its own vignette. But that crunched time span means that there aren’t as many opportunities to let the action relax and develop deliberately. Some people will definitely be drawn to the idea that the first episode of a series plunges the audience deep into the heart of the plot rather than take a couple weeks to find its center. Others, though, may lament that the fast-paced nature of a serialized Web show doesn’t always allow the conversations to soak in.

The chunk-by-chunk nature of the Web series does allow a show like “The Confession” to tackle individual subjects and ideas separately. However, letting the action become self-contained leaves little room for multiple-episode arcs.

In the most recent “Confession” chapter, released on Monday, the duration is devoted to a subplot with a Bernie Madoff-like character that would otherwise have been spread out among an hour-long television episode. The audience gets a distinct beginning, middle and end, but like the conversation between the show’s two main characters, there’s just not enough time to fill in the pesky blanks.

In reviews of “The Confession” in various publications, Sutherland’s assassin has already drawn the inescapable comparison to the Jack Bauer character that cemented him as a living room staple. As a hired killer, he has more time to think about the implications of his actions, leading to a more philosophical character. But for fans of Sutherland’s former TV show who are eagerly awaiting the film adaptation planned for next year, there’s plenty of order-barking and terse directives aimed through clenched teeth.

The characteristics are comfortable, and they offer a bridge between his TV persona and his newly minted online one.

But the important thing is that, whether or not people come to the show for the actors, the plot, the characters or even just to hear the voice of the guy who does the commercial intros before every Hulu-shown program, they can all be counted.

If Kiefer Sutherland’s Bank of America commercial voice-overs still make you think, “Who are you working for?!” email Greene at [email protected]

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