“What we set out to create is nothing like television,” says John Cabrera. One week after releasing the first episodes of “H+,” the creator, writer, and executive producer best known for his role on the Emmy Award-winning show “Gilmore Girls” is checking his YouTube channel to see how viewers will react to the avant garde digital series that premiered on August 8. Produced by Bryan Singer (“X-Men: First Class,” “The Usual Suspects”), “H+” has all the production quality of a television series, but it lives on the Internet.
Six years ago, Cabrera was driving through a covered parking lot when his radio reception cut out, interrupting his favorite song. “I had this overwhelming sense of being disconnected,” he remembers, realizing “how vulnerable we are when we don’t have that connectivity.” This experience became the kernel of a story about a post-apocalyptic world where people are connected to the Internet 24/7 through a medical implant called H+.
The choice to tell the story online was an easy one for Cabrera, whose last series, “The Homes,” lived on the social shopping network Lockerz.com. Presented in conjunction with YouTube and Warner Bros., his latest project will have more resources behind it, but the objective is the same. ”It’s a new way of telling a story,” Cabrera says, “on a platform that can do things that television can’t do.”
Directed by Stewart Hendler (“Sorority Row”), the series follows different characters – played by television veterans like David Clayton Rogers (“Jane By Design”), Alexis Denisof (“Angel,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Amir Arison (“Law & Order: SVU”), and Sean Gunn (“Gilmore Girls”) - over 15 years across five continents as they witness the same catastrophic event.
Inside the writers’ room, Cabrera and the team spread maps and timelines across the table as they tried to look at the story, he says, “from every angle possible.” They filmed the episodes in Santiago, Chile: a location that could mimic every biome they would need, from an Alaskan tundra to an African savanna.
The story was broken into five-minute episodes, which are released a few a time every Wednesday at midnight on YouTube. Cabrera feels the regular schedule will help audiences develop viewing habits, which the team will use to reward subscribers with exclusive previews. But “there’s something to be said about content living on a channel forever,” he adds, which is why the videos will remain on demand.
Because “H+” retells the same story from multiple perspectives, the episodes can be watched in any order. Cabrera and his team have structured the videos “in a way that makes sense to us,” he says, but with YouTube’s playlist tools, fans can organize them by character or location as well as chronologically, or merge them together to create longer episodes as the series unfolds.
Throughout the run of the season, the series creators will be online, jumping into the conversation with fans and getting feedback to incorporate into the show. This, to Cabrera, is the value of the platform. “Netflix and Hulu are just extensions of television that live on the Web,” he says. “YouTube is a whole ecosystem.”
Is it as profitable an ecosystem as network television? “Definitely not,” says Cabrera. “But I will say that it is growing.” At some point, he predicts that ad buys on the Internet will be comparable to what’s on TV.
Right now, there’s still “a stigma surrounding Web series,” Cabrera says. “What we feel this project is doing is changing people’s perception.”