Our Internet-video watching habits tend to be more like Top 40 radio than Must-See TV. A web series, no matter how amusing, is often a one-hit wonder. You watch it a few times, then move on to the next kitten-addled meme. But veteran sci-fi writer/producer Jane Espenson, who has worked with television superheroes like Joss Whedon and Ron Moore, hopes to transform web viewing from fizzily forgettable to destination viewing. With Husbands, her critically acclaimed, cult-hit web series which has generated buzz since it launched last fall, she might do just that.
The series (separated into snack-size online segments) follows the misadventures of Cheeks (Brad Bell) and Brady (Sean Hemeon), a gay couple who wake up married after a night of hard partying in Las Vegas. Professional athlete Brady and Hollywood personality Cheeks decide to give the marriage a go. The result is I Love Lucy with a groundbreaking twist. “For too long, newlywed comedy has been defined as comedy between one man and one woman,” notes Espenson. “Husbands is a story with a classic premise, as told in a marriage-equalized world.”
The series, which Espenson co-created with “Cheeks” Bell has so far generated over 250,000 views in its first “season.” Not bad for a standalone show that’s independently financed. What’s more, the series has expanded well beyond its gay niche, thanks to memorable guest-star spots by sci-fi favorites Nathan Fillion and Michael “What the Buck” Buckley and recent praise from TV critics.
“‘Husbands’ is a story with a classic premise, as told in a marriage equalized world,” says creator Jane Espenson.
Lending new life to a familiar format is something Espenson has turned into a career-spanning art form. Espenson got her start by sending in spec scripts for Star Trek: The Next Generation while in grad school at Berkeley. Eventually, she sold the show a story that became the basis of a future episode. “It paid $1,000, which for a grad student was amazing,” she says. She went on to career-cementing gigs on Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica , Game of Thrones, and the U.S. remake of Torchwood.
Her current day job is as a writer on the Golden Globe-nominated Once Upon a Time, a fantasy-series on ABC, where cursed fairy tale characters are forced to live in the real world (which, when you think about it, isn’t entirely distant from the square-peg struggles of Husbands ‘ larger-than-life Cheeks and his more subdued partner).
Espenson sharpened her digital quill writing for the Emmy-nominated Battlestar Galactica webisodes, but Husbands is the first full-scale production created entirely for the web. “It used to be you’d write a spec pilot for a show that doesn’t exist and will never be produced,” she explains. “Now, it’s turned into, well, shoot your own pilot and let’s see what it looks like.”
To that end, the production of Husbands is about as shoestring as a student film–and as collegial. Shooting the pilot and the series cost between what Espenson would get paid for one to two hours of TV, which allowed for around 30 people to work on the project altogether. “This very much came out of a partnership of friends,” she says, which gives the series a sense of freedom and creative experimentation. “In TV, there’s always someone above you. There’s your show runner, there’s the studio, and above the studio there’s the network,” she says. “There’s always someone for whom you’re writing it. And the notion for writing something for yourself is very appealing for a lot of TV people.” Check out the first episode of Husbands here.