Saturday, July 08, 2006

Forbes Article, July 3rd

Jeffrey Macpherson has concocted a strange recipe for TV stardom: ignore Hollywood, build a cheap set in your apartment in Vancouver and film your show with a few pals while all of you get drunk. Yet somehow the 32-year-old Canadian has emerged as an early breakout star of the dawning era of video podcasting.

Macpherson plays the puckish hero of Tiki Bar TV, a periodic series of loopy, gag-filled vignettes--each lasts only a few minutes--available only by download from his Web site, or Apple's iTunes service for the iPod. He sports a doctor's white smock, stethoscope and prescription pad, and when a character shows up for a consultation, Macpherson (a.k.a. Dr. Tiki) prescribes therapy: a potent drink with a fancy name and myriad kinds of liquor. To keep it real, Macpherson and his motley cast drink the elixir on camera and off; this is one reason it takes them six hours to shoot what gets boiled down to, say, six minutes.

Yet Tiki Bar TV has won a rabid following since its debut early last year (the 17th episode went online June 5). Each segment draws 300,000 or so viewers, rivaling the reach of many cable shows, such as CNBC's Mad Money. Macpherson and his costars get recognized on the street by fans. Viewers have posted photos of Tiki Bar TV parties, one acolyte sent in a heavy-metal version of the show's perky theme song, others dressed up as Tiki Bar characters for Halloween--and even Hollywood has come calling.

"I don't think the show I am doing at my house is going to replace a prime-time show," Macpherson allows, "but the next show I do might."

Podcasting was audio-only at its start in 2004; video popped up in October when Apple unveiled a video iPod. Podcasters rely on Internet downloads to computers and the new iPod (usually via iTunes), and viewers watch the stored shows at their leisure. Podcast shows can also can be viewed on such sites as YouTube, which has fueled a sudden boom in online video by hosting anyone's clips free of charge. Only a handful of video podcasts were up on iTunes in the first month; today the menu of videos has exploded.

This onslaught is cheap. Macpherson films a Tiki Bar bit for $100. Zapping it out costs less than a penny per fan; Apple even covers his Web-hosting costs. Thus old-line TV looks cumbersome and costly, with its legacy of satellites and towers, hundreds of TV stations and cable networks, million-dollar budgets and spoiled stars, and a need to reach big audiences.

Macpherson argues podcasts may transform television as profoundly as cable TV did. Some incumbents concur. NBC Chief Jeffrey Zucker decrees that all NBC shows must develop a digital distribution strategy: "No longer is content just for the TV screen," he told a group of advertisers in May. MTV, which shrank the attention spans of teens in the 1980s, now aims to do it again--it just launched MTVU Uber, an online channel for short-form shows. Yahoo and are in similar pursuit.

Macpherson's twisted path to Web stardom began five years ago, when he embarked on a Hollywood dream. He had put in a year at film school but detested it and worked as a production manager for car commercials. In 2000 he directed his first feature film, a well-received independent drama. Come Together was about a Scotch-guzzling, pot-smoking greeting-card writer who vows to break up his ex-girlfriend's wedding and win her back. It never got distributed; only 5,000 people saw it.

He commuted from Vancouver to Los Angeles in 2001, landed an agent at International Creative Management and signed a movie deal with MTV. Quickly it all fell apart. MTV had wanted a film on ecstasy, the euphoria drug; then it switched to methamphetamine--newsier, but far uglier. "A meth addict and an ecstasy addict are very different beasts," he says. Then it wanted a miniseries. Then MTV bailed, Macpherson's agent quit ICM, and when no one else picked him up, he packed up and slunk home to Vancouver.

Back at his small apartment, he decided, on a lark, to install a 1950s-style tiki bar, complete with palm fronds and lots of rum. Soon he invited friends over and started filming short, goofy segments.

The feel was assiduously absurd and schlocky. Props drove plot: Macpherson became Dr. Tiki after finding an old doctor's coat he had worn to a Halloween party. Soon he added a bartender, Johnny Johnny (played by a grade school pal), and a vivacious vixen named LaLa (an ex-girlfriend). Guest stars joined in (they got to make up their own characters and plotlines), and the cast would get visibly tipsier as a skit unfolded.

The real star of each episode is its special drink. "Love in the South Pacific" is laced with six liquors; it was invented by the Tiki Bar folks, though they are amateur mixologists. "People think we are the Martha Stewart of cocktails. We're not. Inauthenticity is our hallmark," Macpherson says.

Each segment has a freeze-frame of the drink recipe, often showing real brands--Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire gin, Skyy vodka, Southern Comfort. Johnny Johnny (played by Kevin Gamble) trashes lesser labels, at one point calling Sauza Gold tequila "one of the crappier blends you can get." Soon an Internet rumor had it that Tiki Bar TV was a clever front for a liquor company.

It isn't, but its potential--for good and bad--jars some spirits marketers, who fret over any fallout and trademark infringement but also grow giddy over how great this ad platform might be. One marketing chief for a high-end brand, angered by the unauthorized use of his product in a Tiki Bar bit, berated Macpherson on the phone. Minutes later he called back-- to discuss how to work out a sponsorship.

That will be tough, Dr. Tiki concedes, given the proud-to-imbibe ethos of his show. "On TV liquor doesn't make you drunk, it just makes you popular at clubs," he says with a snort. But he believes that one day he may be able to exact a fat premium for clever product placements. "Imagine if you could put a product in the 'dead parrot' sketch," Macpherson says, referring to a famous Monty Python bit. "Imagine what that would be worth."

Until then he relishes the creative latitude of podcasting and his ability to reach legions of viewers without having to kowtow to the meddlesome, unhip Hollywood suits who once nagged him. Some TV sitcoms air flubbed outtakes as the credits roll at the end, but he blithely runs them smack in the middle of an episode. And he revels in his freedom to offend: TV needs the widest possible audience, while Macpherson need lure only the few who "get it."

"We got a lot of hate mail saying, 'You guys think you're funny?'" he says happily.

Macpherson foresees a day when thousands of new-guard filmmakers, aspiring pros with basic editing, lighting and cinematography skills, will be able to sidestep old-line media and draw large audiences online. Hollywood will hire some of them. A Viacom network suit called him recently, hoping to enlist him to make a podcast for the Web. Leery of an overseer who would give him "program notes" on what should be revised, Macpherson declined. "It would be a step backwards. I have a show and total control--why do I want network notes?"

For now he plans to stick to his more subversive pursuits, as he has since his pithy sign-off on the very first episode of Tiki Bar TV: "Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast pilot of The Tiki Bar. If you'd like to see more of this, or even if you don't, I couldn't give a rat's ass. It's the Internet. Just try and [fucking] stop us."


Anonymous Tiki Fan! said...

Yahoo! We though you were dead! Keep up the good work!

Monday, July 24, 2006 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger lucubrate said...

Still busy directing? Those shorts were awesome.
Lost the link though.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006 6:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doth the Trivia Dude livith?
Time to make a come back Dude.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 11:57:00 AM  

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#55 > Behind the Scenes

#54 > Lala's Calendar Revealed

#53 > "Meet the Cast - Coming Soon

#52 > Caught on Camera

#51 > Lala spotted on 42nd Street

#50 > Limey Coming Back

#49 > Waiting Again

#48 > The Jonathan J. Jonathan Collection

#47 > On what date did Lala shed her skin?

#46 > Tiki Bar Trivia passes 10,000

#45 > Forbes Article, July 3rd

#44 > 10-year-olds Making Newscasts

#43 > Off the wire: Tiki TV Toasts Success

#42 > Early Version of Tiki Bar Discovered

#41 > Medecins Sans Permis

#40 > Indie Film of Note: Come Together

#39 > Buttons, Buttons, What's with that?

#38 > Ode to Limey

#37 > The Early days (continued)

#36 > The Waiting is the Hardest Part, Again

#35 > The Doctor's Sleeping Quarters

#34 > That fateful Halloween night

#33 > Is Tiki Bar TV dead?

#32 > Johnny-Johnny set up

#31 > Storyboarding in reverse

#30 > Lala Photo Revisited, 2Tru2B4Got10

#29 > Lala's stairway to heaven

#28 > Continuity: noun

#27 > It's the new pink

#26 > Lala Hoax Revealed, 2Good2BTru

#25 > Finally a Number... 200,000

#24 > 'Boyfriend with Woes' name

#23 > Cast Member Update:

#22 > The Art of Tiki Bar TV

#21 > Who is drawing these?

#20 > Scene Flipped

#19 > Rocketboom on Tiki Bar TV

#18 > Drink-Bot: The early years.

#17 > Spotlight falls on Drink-Bot

#16 > Fez Spotted on Cameras in Vegas

#15 > Vote Yes or No for US$9.99 DVD of first 10 Episodes

#14 > Where did this picture come from?

#13 > Have you seen these men?

#12 > Johnny-Johnny's Last Words

#11 > St. Ethel's Girl's High, not the type

#10 > Sarah's Been there, alright

#09 > The Waiting is the Hardest Part

#08 > Oh, my God!

#07 > Pirate's Identity

#06 > Lala Spotted

#05 > Back to Basics: Name the cast

#04 > DRINK-BOT's Blog

#03 > Women in FIlm

#02 > Word of Warning

#01 > First and Foremost, A Tribute

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