Ray William Johnson’s Deal with FX Isn’t ‘Web-to-TV’

/ May 18, 2013


It’s been a good month for Ray William Johnson. A little over two weeks ago, the man with the third most-subscribed to channel on YouTube announced a deal with Blip, which has made an investment in Johnson’s production company, Runaway Planet, and will work with him to develop new original web video franchises. Now, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, FX has optioned a script for a comedy series “inspired by the life of the internet star.”

Here’s what we know so far, via THR’s report:

  • The writing team of Mike Gagerman and Andrew Waller will pen the script.
  • Gagerman and Waller will also executive produce, alongside Dave Becky and Troy Zien of 3 Arts Entertainment, which reps Johnson.
  • Johnson will receive co-creator credit.
  • If FX picks up the show, it might air on FX or its upcoming comedy channel, FXX, which debuts this September.

Don’t call this a “web-to-TV deal” though, because it’s not. This isn’t “The Annoying Orange” or “Fred,” two of the most prominent examples of a web video property making the successful transition to TV (“The Annoying Orange” debuted on Cartoon Network as the top TV show among boys 6-11 and 9-14, and the Fred franchise now spans a TV show, several made-for-TV movies and even a couple of albums).

Both of those were existing video franchises with established characters and large, loyal audiences. Whatever this show becomes, whether it gets picked up by FX or not, it won’t have that built-in familiarity of a character/property that people already enjoy, just now being made available to them on a different screen in a different format.

As far as we know, Johnson’s involvement with the show will only go as far as that co-creator credit, and maybe (and this is us guessing) offering some story ideas based on his life. The show might master Johnson’s brand of snark, but the character “inspired by” Johnson won’t actually be played by Johnson.

Which makes this a script order like any other, except this one happens to come from one of the biggest names on YouTube. And that will certainly help if the script makes it to a pilot or a full season.

Johnson’s got a loyal following that will surely check out a TV show created by him and presumably starring a semi-fictional version of him. But if he’s not on the screen and doing the things his fans are accustomed to, then it’s not exactly a guarantee that they will stick around after the first couple of episodes. The TV show will need to be good enough on its own to keep them coming back, which means it’ll be up against the same rules as any other pilot or new TV show.

Though, considering FX’s track record in greenlighting critically acclaimed comedies with loyal fans, if the network decides to move this show beyond the script stage, then by all means break out the champagne and caviar.

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