Emmy Award-winning writer Steven Bochco has become the latest Hollywood leader to embrace the Internet, teaming with a video site to produce a series of confessional short videos on such topics as "my first time" and "my weird family."
The man behind such hits as "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" has joined with Metacafe.com, a site that hosts user-generated content, to launch "Cafe Confidential."
The unscripted videos, which don't feature professional actors, are designed to provoke responses from viewers. Those whose posts attract the largest audience are eligible for payment — and might just catch the eyes of starmakers.
Hollywood has flirted with the Internet as a farm team for talent. Aspiring filmmakers and actors have posted original videos in hopes of being discovered, and some notable Web personalities have gone on to be represented by talent agents and sign studio or network deals.
Studios also have seen the Web as another means of distributing movies and TV shows that already have appeared in theaters or on traditional networks.
Bochco says he views the Web as a medium best suited for snippets of entertainment that can be consumed between tasks, something he calls a "mental shower."
"I think people go to the Internet, particularly younger people, assuming they're not going for information, for a distraction between tasks," Bochco said.
Bochco said he has been thinking about what kind of content works best on the Internet for nearly a decade and concluded that straight storytelling, not elaborate production values, works best.
Bochco worked with Palo Alto-based Metacafe Inc. to produce 44 "episodes" featuring people found on the street and in shopping malls. The clips on topics such as "my most embarrassing moment" are aimed at 18-to-30-year-olds.
"The analogy I have used is that of an electronic campfire," Bochco said. "I'm the camp counselor, and my job is to tell a couple of really nifty little stories that will inspire everybody else around the campfire to start sharing their stories, and once that generates its own momentum, get the hell out of the way and let everybody have a good time."
Metacafe is one of a growing number of user-generated video sites that pay people for their content.
The site pays $5 for every 1,000 views once a video has been watched at least 20,000 times and receives a high rating from other users.
Other sites, such as Revver.com, attach ads to videos and split revenue with the creators.
Steven Spielberg recently partnered with reality TV producer Mark Burnett on the site Onthelot.com, which offers aspiring filmmakers a chance to earn a $1 million development deal. Viewers of a forthcoming Fox television series will vote and select a winner.
The collaboration with Bochco is a gamble that Web sites relying on amateurs to produce content can become as successful as those featuring Hollywood fare.
"This is an experiment," Metacafe chief executive Erick Hachenburg said. "The idea of just taking a television show and putting it on the Internet and saying, 'It's different,' doesn't make a lot of sense to me."