All the web's a stage as BBC drama goes interactive

Wannabees is a new play filmed for the internet in which characters turn to the audience for advice on what to do next - and then they'll act it out. So how on earth is that going to work? Meg Carter reports

Filming has just begun for a new BBC drama with a difference. Wannabes follows a group of twentysomething would-be writers, pop stars and celebrities living in Brighton. A familiar recipe for a teen audience, perhaps, but this is no Hollyoaks-on-sea. Instead, the producers are trying to create an interactive TV drama for the internet.

"We want to create a junior Sex and the City - something frothy and fun," says co-writer Will Jewell, whose past credits include Doctors and Dream Team. "The main character, Leila, comes to Brighton to be a journalist. She hangs out in a club, Wannabes, where she meets Charlie, the spoilt daughter of the club's owner, who dreams of being famous; Zeb, a local wide boy who wants to be an entrepreneur; his girlfriend, Rachel, who's long-listed to run for Britain at the Beijing Olympics; and a singer-songwriter who's not sure if he should go solo and ditch his band."

The plot's twists and turns include a scandal that threatens to compromise the nightclub owner's political ambitions, and a dig at reality TV when Charlie becomes a participant on a Big Brother-style show called Give Them Enough Rope. Wannabes will mix broadcast production values with computer gaming techniques and has a narrative style. As events unfold, characters must address a series of dilemmas with viewers' help.

"One character gets drunk with his best friend's girlfriend - he goes to the bathroom where he turns to camera to ask: should he sleep with her?" Jewell explains. "The viewer will then see both possible outcomes before being invited to offer advice. The character will make his or her decision anyway, but for interacting the viewer will be awarded a friendship score based on whether advice is helpful or not."

Viewer participation will unlock additional filmed content - thanks or chastisement from a character they have advised, for example. Interactive games are also being built into the series. In one episode, Charlie invites her friends to Laser Quest. As the characters play the game, viewers select who meets who. Their decisions, in turn, dictate what film footage appears on their computer screen.

"People think interactive drama means letting the audience dictate the outcome," says Jewell, pointing to previous interactive dramas, including last year's Dubplate from Channel 4, in which storylines were dictated by viewers via text messaging. A similar technique was used for Forget the Rules, an Australian show that aired on the music station Channel V, the internet and 3G mobile phones.

"The problem with this approach is that each viewer choice leads you down a different route," he adds. "Most experiments so far have involved mini-dramas with episodes of just a few minutes. To produce longer-format interactive drama in this way would require months to film all the different elements and various outcomes, and a long time to knit them all together."

With Wannabes, the viewer interacts through limited choices, then it all comes back to the same point at the end of each episode - a necessary compromise, says the show's executive producer, Jamie Cason. Stories, not technical trickery, engage audiences, he believes.

"At first, we came at this more from a computer game design than a TV production perspective. But we struggled," he admits. "The most important focus has to be characters and plotting. TV and linear producers can learn from computer gaming, but that industry is struggling to develop interactive formats acceptable to a mainstream audience. Their weakness is characters and engaging stories, but that's our strength."

Wannabes is the fourth interactive drama to come out of the BBC's interactive drama and entertainment department, which is overseen by the BBC's drama and entertainment chief, Alan Yentob. Its first project was Thunder Road, a video-based interactive drama in 30 three-minute episodes by the playwright John Godber.

Next came the animated drama Ghosts of Albion and then, last year, Jamie Kane, awhodunit about a missing popstar. Created for the internet and mobile phone, Jamie Kane mixed live footage with online games, mobile phone messaging and clues to the popstar's whereabouts hidden on fictional websites. The initiative blurred the lines between TV and the web, but confused many within the industry and its target audience.

"Each of these interactive dramas is playing a valuable role in developing the BBC's understanding of how TV production will need to evolve in the future," says Sophie Walpole, the interactive drama and entertainment department's head. "We already do a lot of interactive applications for broadcast shows such as Spooks, Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who. Wannabes, however, is an original, on-demand interactive TV drama that's about assessing the next step beyond that."

Broadcasters are grappling with how best to make TV content available via the web, she says. The latest figures from Google show that surfing the web has overtaken watching TV as the UK's favourite pastime. Meanwhile, in the US, a number of high-profile, internet-exclusive TV shows are in production, including Gold Rush, a Treasure Hunt-style reality format developed by Mark Burnett.

Burnett, America's reality TV king and the creator of The Apprentice, has declared: "The internet is about to become the next broadcast network... and could well become the new primetime." That's a claim too far for Walpole. But, she says, only by investing in new interactive programme formats today can broadcasters such as the BBC gain the audience insight it will need to cope when TV via the internet becomes the norm.

Wannabes launches on www.bbc.co.uk/teens in September.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Display Account Manager

£25,000 to £35,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Company Our client are th...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director

£80 – 120K : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director – Ad tech - £80 – 120K...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum