Web-based Strike.tv tries to stand out in crowded field

For Hollywood scribe Peter Hyoguchi, it was just another day on last year's Writers Guild picket line when the idea hit him like an earthquake.

Actually, he was thinking about a specific tremor: the 1994 Northridge jolt that sent him and neighbors, once perfect strangers, into the streets and each other's lives.

"The writers' strike was like that in that it made us realize that we writers do have a community, and we could maybe band together," he says. "And that's Strike.tv."

As entertainment website names go, there are monikers more wacky (funnyordie.com) and obtuse (hulu .com), but at least this one never lets you forget its roots. Launched a few weeks ago after months of planning and (donated) labor on the part of writers, producers, actors and computer wizards, Strike.tv leaps into the maw of Internet-based content with a few bragging points.

For anyone used to watching small, fuzzy videos, Strike.tv's HD-quality 16:9 format player offers welcome eyeball relief. And there's no trolling through home-grown videos before getting to the good stuff, thanks to the site's professionals-only credo.

"I was going crazy during the strike, so when I got e-mail asking if I wanted to participate, I said sure," says screenwriter Steven de Souza (Die Hard, Judge Dredd). He says the industry strike's focus — increased pay when content goes online — got him thinking about the medium.

"It was an adjustment for me with the videos being so short," he says. "But in a way, we're back to the days of the nickelodeon. Put in 5 cents, see a short reel, you're done."

De Souza's series on Strike.tv, one of dozens the site has in the works, is Unknown Sender. It aims to give the viewer the sensation of stumbling across a private video.

Actors include former Bond star Timothy Dalton, who says, "When Steven asked me to do this, I thought, 'Well, this is what our future will be.' It was quick. Joanne (Whalley) and I were out of there in an hour. It was fun. But best of all, it was all very professional."

The Office writer Lester Lewis got together with a star of the NBC hit comedy, Mindy Kaling, to create House Poor, a vignette that chronicles Kaling's shady attempts to furnish her new oversized home. For the duo, the appeal of Strike.tv was its promise of shortcutting Hollywood's lengthy creative process.

"It's just me and Mindy going, 'Hey, this could be funny,' and we go 'do it,' " Lewis says. "There's no pitching the idea, no network notes to look over, no worrying about whether a boss likes it or not."

There's also no money. Not yet, at least. And any advertising profits that do accrue over the next three months are being turned over to the Actors Fund, which supports crewmembers affected by the strikes that caused L.A.'s lifeblood to congeal.

"We were all certainly willing to start this venture on goodwill," says Lewis, who sits on Strike.tv's board of directors. "But (the videos) ultimately have to connect with an audience and advertisers. Right now, it'll take our time and our money to make it work. But hopefully we can get people to consider us as a regular source of online entertainment."

That's the elusive dream of all entertainment portals, none of which has created enough critical mass to emerge as consistent audience draws. Will Ferrell's funnyordie.com has had its well-trafficked moments, but the number of amateur videos on the site means that finding more polished gems, such as Ron Howard's pre-election get-out-the-vote video, is an infrequent occurrence.

Strike.tv founder Hyoguchi says the plan is to hook viewers with the short, episodic fare, which may draw companies willing pay for either product integration deals or outright series sponsorships.

"Obviously, we'll have to see if we can make money," Hyoguchi says. "But there is a great sense of collective optimism. We feel like we're answering the question I had on that day in the picket line. 'What would it be like if artists in this town had total creative freedom?' "