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Published: 9/10/2012

YouTube’s WIGS channel finds drama in women

Growing slate of series, stars pop up on Internet channel

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Julia Stiles stars in the WIGS 12-part episode of ‘Blue’ and a single mother who works as a prostitute. Julia Stiles stars in the WIGS 12-part episode of ‘Blue’ and a single mother who works as a prostitute.
COURTESY OF WIGSCO, LLC. Enlarge

NEW YORK -- Not to play favorites, but if you'd like to sample the tasty new WIGS channel, just take nine minutes and try Denise.

This nifty little set piece was written by celebrated playwright Neil LaBute, directed by Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste & Jesse Forever) and stars straight-from-The-Newsroom Alison Pill and Chris Messina as two actors awaiting auditions who awkwardly revisit a past one-night stand.

Denise is witty, well-observed, and packs a sly punch. It's a treat.

Appetite whetted? There's plenty more WIGS where that came from: a dozen titles so far, with more rolling out through November. They will collectively comprise some 100 video chapters, most of them six to eight minutes in length. Warning: WIGS could prove habit-forming.

Launched in May as one of YouTube's numerous new channels of original content, WIGS is a destination for short films -- both series and one-offs -- unlike anything you're likely to find on TV or a movie screen.

Each work focuses on a female protagonist in a novel situation (whether funny, sad, or in-between) as performed by a top-notch cast including A-list actors and actresses along with promising newcomers. The roster of writers is equally impressive, including unexpected names like Mitch Albom and Scott Turow. Half of the directors are women.

Handsomely produced, WIGS even boasts intoxicating theme music by multi-Oscar-nominated Thomas Newman.

The channel's name (an acronym for Where It Gets Interesting) is meant to address the multifaceted nature of women, who in their daily lives are called upon to wear, metaphorically, not only many hats but also many wigs.

The creators of WIGS are two men who, despite their Y chromosomes, have built careers exploring the world of women.

Writer-producer-director Jon Avnet's credits include the films Black Swan and Risky Business, and the TV series The Starter Wife. Rodrigo Garcia produced the HBO series In Treatment and Six Feet Under, and directed the gender-bender feature Albert Nobbs, which earned its star, Glenn Close, a best-actress Oscar nod.

Several years ago they began cooking up WIGS as a way to mold their artistic visions to the Internet medium while targeting what they saw as an underserved Web audience: adult women.

They also wanted to adapt for the Web the experience of cinema.

"The Internet isn't going to be dogs on skateboards forever," says Garcia. "We wanted to produce projects that are entertaining but aren't as disposable as what was gaining popularity at the time."

Then YouTube recruited them for its new 100-channel portfolio. Suddenly their fledgling enterprise (in partnership with News Corp. Digital Media Group) had a well-established, massively visited home base.

An early WIGS offering was Jan, written and directed by Avnet, a 15-part tale about a budding photographer who's focused on sex. It stars Caitlin Gerard (The Social Network) and features Virginia Madsen, Stephen Moyer, and Jaime Murray.

Garcia wrote and directed the 12-part Blue, which stars Julia Stiles as the single mother of a teenage boy who has no idea that his mom's a prostitute.

Meanwhile, Avnet and Garcia were inviting other filmmakers and actors to come play.

The guidelines, in a sense, were simple: Each project had to have a woman at its center, "and we wanted her to be multidimensional and difficult to pin down at times," says Avnet. "We want it more complex than broadcast, not as graphic as cable. Beyond that, our green-light committee is two guys who look at each other and say, 'Well, whattaya think?'"

Dakota, written and directed by Ami Canaan Mann (Texas Killing Fields), finds Jena Malone as a woman juggling motherhood and a poker addiction.

Lauren stars Jennifer Beals and Troian Bellisario in a drama about a female service member seeking justice after being raped by three fellow soldiers. It was directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (Mad Men, The West Wing).

Christine, written and directed by Garcia, follows an evening of speed dating with America Ferrera, also starring Eric Balfour and Gary Dourdan as two of her speed dates.

And among those still ahead: Georgia, a comic three-parter written and directed by Marta Kauffman (Friends).

Avnet considers it "highly likely" that WIGS will be invited to do a second cycle of films.

"Maybe by the third cycle, we can be paying our actors close to cable rates," he proposes, "and making a little money ourselves."

YouTube isn't saying when it will declare WIGS' fate. But it's putting out enthusiastic signals.

"They're building a really loyal fan base among the female viewers," says Jamie Byrne, YouTube's head of content strategy. "And they're building one of the great new media brands -- not only with viewers, but also with the talent community and with advertisers."

Since its May debut, WIGS says it has logged more than 15 million views and gathered 83,000 subscribers.

But if all the signs look hopeful, the founders of WIGS retain a pleasantly philosophical stance.

"There is no one, yet, who can tell us what success is in this online world," says Avnet. "But it's fun when you don't know what you're doing, and when the price of success and failure isn't so high that you have committees trying to tell you what works.

"An expert," he says cheerfully, "knows what happened in the past." He and Garcia hope WIGS is happening for the future.

Watch WIGS episodes at youtube.com/wigs or watchwigs.com.



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