Harper's Island is a 13-episode "mystery event" that premieres on CBS tonight. It follows a wedding party on the sparsely populated island, whose festivities are interrupted when guests start getting brutally murdered. Harper's Globe is a 16-episode "social show" on the internet which is a companion piece to Harper's Island. The website allows you to interact with characters and fans, and watch exclusive episodes and other video content. The web series informs the TV series, but isn't required in order to understand it. Confused? We were too, at first. But fortunately we hit the recent Harper's Globe launch party in Hollywood, where a panel of experts (a.k.a. the guys who make Globe and Island, and the one extremely hot girl who stars in Globe) assembled to guide us through.
Our panel included: Dan Shotz, producer on Island; Jennifer Yale, writer of Globe; Miles Beckett, producer of Globe (pictured above); Melanie Merkosky, who plays reporter Robin on Globe (also pictured above); Matt Siegel, executive producer of Globe; and Greg Goodfried, executive producer of Globe.
How did this merger between TV and internet entertainment begin?
Beckett: Greg and I created another web series, LonelyGirl15. We reached this point with our company where we thought it would make sense if we raised some financing in April last year, and immediately started thinking about the next project we wanted to do. We had become friendly with a couple executives at CBS. CBS was one of the networks that seemed to be very, very forward-thinking when it came to the digital world. They were very open to working with third party collaborators and things like that. Initially we formed this partnership with them to see what projects would grab our interest, and the first one that did was Harper's Island.
Shotz: I came from the team that did Jericho, and the fans on the internet were instrumental in saving that show. We knew while creating Harper's Island that we needed to find partners to help us bring Harper's Island to the internet. When we met these guys, it was such a love fest. It was perfect. What we tried to create here is a companion piece that can work together and separately.
What kind of challenges did you face, with two different production teams and an interlocking story?
Shotz: We met with these guys before we even did the pilot – all we had was a presentation piece. They were involved from day one. Jennifer Yale, our writer for Harper's Globe, works with us on Harper's Island so there was contact throughout.
Yale: I actually worked for the show-runner on Harper's Island, Jeffrey Bell, so that helped me figure out what the storylines would be. Especially because it was top secret – a lot of the writers didn't know what was coming, our post-production didn't know. It helped in writing Harper's Globe because we had to know those things going in.
Can you tell us about casting Robin?
Siegel: When I came on, Miles and Greg told me they had someone in mind to star in Harper's Globe, but the network wanted to find a fresh face. We hired a casting director and saw a ton of girls. I went back to them and told them there is one girl, and she is it. The network thought it was a joke – it was Melanie, and it turned out that she was the one Miles and Greg were pitching from the beginning.
What were the differences going from LonelyGirl15 to something a little different, where there is a parallel narrative?
Merkosky: It was really cool and exciting, because there is nothing like it out there. I was immediately excited. When I came in to audition, I didn't even know EQAL [the company behind LonelyGirl15, in which Merkosky starred] was behind this. The major difference was that there was a beginning, middle and end in place when we started. LonelyGirl15 had different story arcs we would tackle, one at a time. Harper's Globe had more of a movie feel because I knew where my character had to end up. I just had to figure out how to get there.
With something like Harper's Globe, not only can you go online and talk with other people about the show, but you can actually become part of it. You can relate to the characters and involve yourself in the story as much or as little as you want to. It's up to you. That's really what makes this a gem. For someone who just wants to tune in and watch, they can do that. For someone who wants to get involved, you can upload your own videos, interact with the characters, do whatever you want. It's a new platform that I think a lot of eyes are going to be watching to see how it goes.
Tell us about the structure of Harper's Globe.
Beckett: I will be the first to say that I don't know if the format we are using is the best format for a serialized web drama, but it is a format that works, and we are constantly refining. LonelyGirl15 had a very unstructured storyline. We decided that we should tell a complete story each and every week, which of course turned out to be like TV. But one of the things we have done differently with Harper's Globe is that each day, you can watch videos made by the characters, you can read text blogs written by all the characters, look at photos, etc. There is at least one piece of content uploaded by a character every day – often times, more. They all have profile pages; you can send them messages; you can write on the message boards; and if you come every day, you can actually take part in the storyline as it unfolds over the course of the week. We have pre-planned these interactive hooks – we don't really know what those messages might be or who might take part in them, but we know it will happen. We take all that daily content and create a weekly episode.
Knowing that Harper's Island has a set end date, how does that affect the way viewers watch, and what does that mean for future seasons?
Shotz: When we pitched the series, the question always was, "What is season two?" Harper's Island is a 13-episode story, and then it is over. You will get your answers by that 13th episode. It was really important for us to give the audience those answers at the end. You don't have to wait five years for the answers. It's looking at things like reality television, the most successful stuff on TV. Each year, you have a new cast. You follow that cast, you root for that cast, you fall in love with that cast. We have a little bit of that game in our show, where at least one character will be killed off every week. That's what makes the show fun. And we are bringing that model to fictional television.
Yale: The other good thing about Harper's Globe is that, on network television, there are standards and practices. On a web series, there are some, but there is a lot more we can show. Our show is much more horror-based because of this. That was what was so fun about Harper's Globe. We can show a lot more.
Shotz: Season two would be a whole new story. We would keep the same format, but it might be Harper's Safari or Harper's At Sea or Harper's Sorority House. My favorite is Harper's Synagogue. [Laughs.] We would take the formula of someone getting killed off every week, but there is a new cast, new characters, a new location. Harper's Globe would come with us at each incarnation.
What makes this experience so compelling?
Beckett: There was a comment we saw from one of the fans on LonelyGirl15, and we actually saw this on Harper's Globe's site, too. The site is kind of like a blog platform with a social networking aspect and a message board. Someone commented on the board, "OMG, this is like my favorite TV show and Facebook. It's like crack. I can't leave." [Laughs.] I think there is something about this combination of content and community that is incredibly engaging.