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The Movement, as Winkler might put it, got a significant boost last week, when Stephen King premiered his most recent story, Riding the Bullet, exclusively on the Net, causing a near meltdown of the computers that served it up to more than 500,000 people the first day. His experiment proved a point: the middleman is endangered. If you're unknown, you can avoid the middleman by using the Net to get discovered and attain stardom. And if you're already a star, you can avoid the middleman by using the Net to keep most of the money yourself. "It's like putting a nickel into the world's biggest slot machine, isn't it?" said King. It's a long-shot bet, and the profits are still mainly in the hands of the big media companies. But the entertainment space is attracting lots of gamblers.
"There are no more economic opportunities in e-commerce," says Josh Harris, who founded the 220-employee webtertainment network Pseudo.com "The gold rush is coming to a close, and the last piece of the puzzle is what we do." What Pseudo does is not what King does. Pseudo works the fringe, offering up a slew of shows, giving a creative outlet to anyone from a woman having sex on a plane to a naked, one-toothed, 80-year-old man dancing. This stuff--all jerky and spastic in a tiny 3-in. by 3-in. box on your computer screen--makes public-access cable TV look cerebral and slick. But who cares? It's a global talent show, and you never know who's watching out there--or whether, like Winkler, you'll end up being discovered. Harris, a multimillionaire after founding (and selling) the consulting firm Jupiter Communications, has left the day-to-day operations of Pseudo to produce a show for the Web. It's a knock-off of MTV's The Real World, based on his downtown art friends and his alter ego, a scary, clownlike cult leader named Luvvy. Harris, of course, hopes eventually to get this on prime-time network television. Harris is out of his gourd.
He's right, though, that for the first time in history, it's pretty good to be a creative person. With all these websites looking for shows, even writers are finding gainful employment. Charles Dahlgren, 27, and Sam Music, 25, had been showing their NYPD Blue and Action scripts to every agency in Los Angeles and getting rejected by all of them. So they decided to use their own money to make an Internet version of The Satan Show--a cartoon allegory in which hell is ruled by people who closely resemble the Hollywood execs who had been rejecting the duo. "The goal is to get it on the Internet and get it on a network," says Dahlgren, seated at the West Hollywood Starbucks. They've hired 16 writers for the project, who are being paid in equity and have all signed Silicon Valley-style agreements not to disclose details about the project. Even though they're getting offers from several entertainment websites, Dahlgren and Music aren't willing to go to work for the New New Man. "There are a lot of people offering us deals along the old studio model," says Dahlgren. "Which is insane, because the Internet is a full-on democratized distribution medium. All you need is a $3,000 server."