New media, including web series, sketches, branded content, and the rest of the stuff coming out of the world wide wild west has created a de facto minor league feeder system for television. This is more true of comedy than it is of drama; the dozens of Brooklynites creating web series as we speak have memorized these indie comedy success stories by heart.
From the rise of Lonely Island to the recent pilot order for Broad City, the Internet has created a path from obscurity to network that didn't exist in television before. It seems like every month we see another web series creator plucked to star in, write for, or develop a show for the big leagues. We've got an office pool going for when the High Maintenance creative team will get their deal, and we wager we'll see that bet resolved soon. The math is simple: more fresh voices equals better content.
The Internet is also keeping comedy creatives fresh after they've broken into the industry. The various webisodes created by The Office over the run of the series are a prime example of this. Now that we insatiably crave easily digestible content, writers and producers are often tasked with creating web video to accompany a series: these quick hitting videos are a great platform for test-driving characters and plot. If a quick bit goes viral as a webisode, it could easily find its way into the next season's plot arc. Granted, outside of Battlestar Galactica's stunning web content and the few drama web series like Big Country Blues, drama hasn't found the same new media synergy, but we imagine it's only a matter of time until a symbiotic relationship with web content is de rigueur for all television shows.
New media has improved dramatic television in a different way. The last several years have seen web companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu take the next step in the relationship between television and web content. These companies aspire to be more than a feeder system for traditional television channels—they want to run them out of business.
Hulu was the first to make a run at the original series game, and the results were less than spectacular. This year has seen efforts from Amazon and Netflix that look like they may alter the television landscape permanently, and for the better.
Netflix's House of Cards was a critical and commercial success, while their new season of Arrested Development drew tons of eyeballs despite drawing mixed reviews.
Amazon's pilot contest experiment is still a work in progress, and regardless of how it turns out, there's no denying that the comedies they ordered to series, Alpha House and Betas, certainly trump the average stale network sitcom based on their pilots (though that's saying very, very little).
New media's imprint on television has yet to be fully felt, but the numerous changes the Internet has wrought on television have generally been for the better.