"It's not like we're trying to create a television show every night," comedian Tom Green says about Tom Green Live, the Internet program he hosts under the auspices of Denver-based ManiaTV! "We're actually doing a web television show, and it's different from what you'd see on regular television, just because of all the interactivity."
Of course, the opportunity for computer users and phone-callers to communicate with Green in action isn't the only difference between his current project and the talk shows he once hosted for MTV. Live, which debuted in June, is streamed weekdays at 9 p.m. Mountain from the living room of Green's Hollywood Hills home, and the web gives him the freedom to ignore time constraints that even the likes of David Letterman must heed. He abandons all structure on Fridays in favor of simply switching on his cameras and throwing a party. And if things are going well during one of his typical hour-length shows, he's able to extend the insanity for as long as he'd like.
Consider an October 10 offering starring Steve-O, of Jackass fame, and Carson Daly. "We went on for an hour," Green recalls, "then went off the air and had a couple of drinks, and then went back on the air for another two hours and fifty minutes." During that span, Steve-O indulged in behavior that might have made even cable execs nervous, including wearing a "FUCK BUSH" T-shirt, doing whippits mid-interview and sharing intimate details of an alleged boink session involving Jackass alum Bam Margera and pop tart Jessica Simpson. At one point, Steve-O roared, "I called him out for texting his bros while she was taking an after-fuck pee!"
Such antics have helped Tom Green Live attract an audience that reaches or exceeds 25,000 users on many evenings -- and more surfers subsequently check out clips or entire episodes at Mania TV.com or TomGreen.com, an address that Green looks upon as the base for his own personal network. The numbers approach those generated by more standard television purveyors. "When you look at late-night cable TV, a lot of them are only doing thirty, forty, fifty thousand viewers," notes Drew Massey, the CEO and founder of ManiaTV!
The key now is to translate these fans, and the ones who'll presumably follow, into profit -- a trick that Internet outfits such as ManiaTV!, a music-based service staffed with so-called cyber jockeys, or CJs, have not yet managed to perfect. Green is confident his creation will generate a healthy amount of revenue eventually, but in the meantime, he's doing his best to start an online revolution without an army at his back. "I'm learning every day, trying to figure out how to do this kind of show with no writers, no producers, nothing," he says. "It's just me and these two guys who work for me, with most of our time being spent on keeping the computers running."
The ManiaTV! venture represents a professional reboot for Green, whose career crashed after several years of appropriately twisted notoriety. The native Canadian hosted a show on a public-access channel that featured deadpan interviews with everyday folks and comedy routines that frequently took gross-out humor to new, gag-inducing places. In 1998, after four years of honing such routines, a cable channel picked up Green's opus for broadcast across his home country, and the following year, MTV brought him to the States. White-hot fame ensued. In short order, Eminem memorialized Green in the lyrics of "The Real Slim Shady" for a bit that featured him humping a dead moose; 2000's Road Trip, a movie remembered for a scene in which he pops a live mouse into his mouth, became a major hit; and actress Drew Barrymore not only found a role for him in Charlie's Angels, an even bigger smash from that same year, but she married him, too.
His good fortune turned sour after that. Green and Barrymore split, and 2001's Freddy Got Fingered, a comedy he wrote and directed, was filleted by critics. Today he says Freddy "became a huge success for me on DVD, which people never really mention. It just doesn't go away. People come up to me on the street every day about that movie." At the time, though, disapproval of Freddy was practically universal, with the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation giving it a "Razzie" as the year's worst flick -- and even Green's good-humored (and thus far unduplicated) decision to personally accept the dishonor didn't reverse the tide against him. Film offers abruptly halted, and his 2003 attempt to revive his MTV talk show resulted in swift cancellation.
With more time on his hands than he wanted, Green turned to his website, which he'd put up in 1996 as a way to share info and events with boosters, and the fun of video blogging soon convinced him that the web could power his comeback vehicle. A connection at the William Morris Agency consequently told him about ManiaTV!'s Massey, who had been looking for ways to draw off-kilter celebs like Green into his site's orbit. This process has been bumpy in recent months: Dustin "Screech" Diamond was sent packing after a fundraiser he touted began smelling fishy, and Vincent "Don Vito" Margera, Bam's uncle, wound up under arrest after being accused of pawing two underage girls at Lakewood's Colorado Mills mall. But Massey had better luck with Green. After hearing the comic's web-show pitch, "I said, 'Let's do it. Let's make this thing bigger,'" he recalls.
By Massey's estimate, ManiaTV! spent $500,000 to transform Green's house into a webcasting studio. Too bad much of the gear faltered, especially in the early days after the launch. "The first month, we didn't even have tally lights on the camera," Green remembers. "And fixing everything took a lot of trial and error, because we were hooking up so many different types of computers and servers and switchers and compressors that don't normally even work together."
Fortunately, most of these issues have been addressed, and Zach Wolk, a volunteer who's booking talent despite a total lack of experience in the field, has managed to convince plenty of name personalities to head to the Hills. Recent guests include Dave Navarro, Ed McMahon, Brooke Shields and the members of GWAR, among many others.
To build on this success, Green wants to hire a staff to help write fresh material rather than simply winging it each night. He can't do so, however, without a deep-pocketed advertiser willing to bankroll his vision. Discussions are ongoing with "a bunch of beer companies and deodorant companies and alcohol companies," he maintains, but none have committed to date, and cost is one likely reason. "We're not looking for a small amount of money," he admits.
That could be a problem, since many companies remain uncertain about the effectiveness of Internet advertising. But Green thinks technology increases the value of such buys. He'll personally pimp the winning product during shows, just as Lucy and Desi did during the golden age of television, and because the programs will be archived and available for on-demand viewing, he says, "You ultimately could be selling that ad for several years based per view. It's a whole new model for the industry."
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Maybe so, but there's no telling whether it will take off. ManiaTV!, which employs a tack similar to the one Green touts (CJs promote products live), has attracted advertising dollars from some enormous concerns, including Coca-Cola, Nike and General Motors. Nevertheless, Massey, who predicted in a Westword interview in July 2005 that ManiaTV! would begin making money by 2006's end, concedes that it'll take at least another twelve months to get into the black. If that doesn't happen, Mania TV!'s advertising bubble could burst before it gets much of a chance to inflate.
Instead of dwelling on the possibility, Green prefers to look forward. He's putting the finishing touches on Prankstar, his first movie since Freddy got the finger. Meanwhile, his tech guys are developing new distribution methods for Live, "like making the shows easily available for podcasting," that he hopes will be operational within weeks. Until then, he's doing his damnedest to stay focused on laughs.
"Sometimes you get distracted and start thinking, 'We've got to sell an ad!,'" Green admits. "But the reality is, the show's funny, and the viewership is rising consistently each week. This isn't going away."