The entertainment industry is its own unique ecosystem, and when it comes to content, the people in charge are excellent conservationists. The life of even a modestly successful television program, for example, might extend to syndication, a DVD set, a big-screen remake, and now, a series of bite-sized "minisodes." This week, Sony launched the Minisode Network, featuring TV artifacts such as Charlie's Angels, Starsky & Hutch, and The Facts of Life shrunk down to bonsai proportions for an initial run on MySpace. (The exclusive sponsor, Honda, is aptly plugging its compact car, the Fit.)
The venture is a cheap and easy way for a Big Content entity such as Sony to ride the DIY video wave and milk their back catalog for new revenue sources, while also helping overwhelmed culture consumers manage their leisure time more efficiently. But how do these abridged relics fare as entertainment?
The idea for the Minisode Network reportedly gathered added steam after Sony executives saw the ne plus ultra of homemade highlight reels, Paul Gulyas and Joe Sabia's "The Seven Minute Sopranos," which has been viewed more than 500,000 times since it was uploaded to YouTube at the end of March. The Sopranos refresher course is virtuosic in its very concision, cramming some 77 hours' worth of melodrama into those seven (and a half) minutes. But it's also a miniature work of art unto itself, one that carves out space—seemingly against the laws of physics—for comic refrains (Carmela screeching "Get the fuck out of this house!" at Tony gets funnier every time it's replayed)and expertly modulated rhythms amid the rapid-fire plot summary.
The Sony minisodes aren't nearly as inspired—they're not edited so much as hacked up, and the raw material is not exactly the stuff of Greek tragedy.The distilled dramas boil down to a succession of '70s action signifiers: sprinting, fisticuffs, gunfire, car crashes, explosions, plus the occasional pause for a tacit Excellent Hair Competition. This can pass the time for a minisode or two, particularly when the Angels are stuck in a women's prison wearing nothing but towels or Starsky and Hutch are chasing a vampire (in an installment that seems to have been hijacked by the writing staff of Scooby-Doo).But once you've seen an Aaron Spelling joint whittled down to a jagged five minutes, the mind reels at just how the producers managed to fill the other 40, week after week. Even a minisode begins to look distended.
It seems thatSony intended to beckon viewers down an abbreviated memory lane, but the Minisode Network is a case study in the limits of nostalgia. The comedies are dismayingly bad, the canned laughter and applause falling like a hard rain on a tin roof. (They are, however, intriguing from a sociological standpoint: It's fascinating how often sitcoms of the late '70s and early '80scontrived to place working-class kids in a wealthy milieu. This setup is present in one way or another in Diff'rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Who's the Boss?, all of which get the minisode treatment.)