I met Hayden Black, creator and star of the web series Goodnight Burbank, about two years ago when I was covering the first annual Streamy Awards for Starpulse. Wearing a shirt that said ‘Follow Me @HaydenBlack,’ he got up to introduce one of the categories, and made me laugh enough so that after the show, I approached him as he was leaving the building.
“All right,” I said, “I’ll be following you.”
I don’t recall his response to that, but I’m sure it was something British. True to my word, I found him on Twitter when I got home that night. At the time, Goodnight Burbank was a short series that streamed on blip.tv and Babelgum. Now the show that takes a look behind the scenes of a low-budget local news station is a half-hour, star-studded production distributed on Hulu. Black (who plays co-anchor Gordon Winston-Smythe) was good enough to take a few minutes out of plotting world domination to answer a few questions I had about the show and riding the wave of success.
Goodnight Burbank started as shorter 5 to 10 minute episodes; what was the genesis of the original webseries?
I’d been taking an improv class but could never remember my lines. Some guy in there suggested shooting a series of sketches for the web and it sort of went from there. The initial format included people who were in the class. By the way, this was back in 2006 when most people hadn’t discovered the internet and it was still just a place to get porn from. Thankfully, as I’m sure most of your readers know, you can still get porn from it. Phew.
What took you to the web in the first place?
I thought it was the best way to get noticed fast. As it turned out, we were on the front page of iTunes within 3 months so my hunch was right. I’ve always hated having this hunch – it’s right there on my back – but this was one time when I didn’t mind it.
The half-hour series is the third incarnation of GNB, after Goodnight Burbank: Hollywood Report (which saw the characters tackle a struggling daytime talk show). What is it about this particular playground that keeps you coming back?
The fans. The fans love this show and are always writing me about it or retweeting the jokes I write on the @GoodniteBurbank account. So they were definitely on my mind when I thought about what a proper half-hour version would look like.
Now that GNB is a half-hour sitcom, is the next step television, or would you prefer to keep it web-based?
The great thing about doing my own version of GNB is that I own 100% of the IP (that’s Intellectual Property, fact-fans). So we can sell format rights to TV networks around the world and they can do their own versions and/or license the finished episodes I produce myself – but the bottom line is, I don’t ever have to cancel the show. That’s pretty mind-blowing to think I’m changing a paradigm. A network can cancel a show and with no money to produce it, it’s done. I can fund this myself via advertising and investors so effectively I never have to cancel it. Wow. It turns out I have become a God. Who’d have thunk?
How did the deal with Hulu come about?
We had lunch and they suggested a half-hour series because they liked the shorter one. They weren’t going to invest any money in it, well, not beyond paying for my lunch, so they own precisely 0% of the show. By putting it up on their platform, we get a sexy website to distribute the show in the US plus a share in ad revenue, and they get the best half-hour comedy ever made for the web. It’s win/win only they win more.
You’ve attracted some great talent for the program – who else is on your list of guest stars to get?
We came thisclose to getting two massively huge names for the show but that’s what Season 2 is for! I think we got a lot of names because they saw the private trailer I’d put together and realized it was a fun project that was going places with or without them – and that took the pressure off them. You know, that meant that we weren’t relying on their name or brand to be a success. So at that point for them it was more about how much fun they could have. I’m looking forward to working with a lot of these names again in subsequent seasons as well as making new very famous friends via the show. :)
Are any of the characters based on real people?
I suppose in a small way, I’m like Gordon – sensible, fairly liberal in nature – but other than that, not really. The reporter named Barrie Livingstone is named for my first cousin, and Terri Blake is a female version of my dad’s name, but other than names, there’s no connections to real people. Whitney is an amalgamation of all the hysterical right-wing talking heads we get bombarded with.
Do you have any humorous anecdotes from set?
Tons! We had Stacey Scowley and America Young up in the rafters in Episode 3 and all I could think was “please, rafters, don’t collapse and kill them” while trying to act. Thank God they didn’t.
In Episode 4, the actress scheduled to play the Irish immigration lawyer didn’t show up so we had to recast/rewrite the role in approx 30 minutes. That wasn’t so much humorous as it was amazing that we did it. In Episode 6, Deanna Russo (Gossip Girl) improvised spitting at me and thank God it was the last scene otherwise I would have had a big piece of her gob on me for the whole show. We’re putting out some deleted and outtakes packages so you can see what it was like behind the scenes.
What advice do you have for people who want to make their own web content?
Take some time to really work on the scripts.
Actually, not just some time – lots of time. The great majority of stuff out there now is pedestrian at best. If you want to know what I think in general, you can follow me at @haydenblack.
Are you working on any other projects that you’re free to talk about at the moment?
We’re looking at bringing back Abigail’s Teen Diary but Goodnight Burbank is front and center at the moment.