[By: Saba Hamedy] [Mashable] [Read More]
LOS ANGELES — It was Netflix's first time at VidCon, a three-day conference dedicated to digital influencers and their huge fan bases.
At the June event in Anaheim, the streaming giant set up a lounge to promote a handful of its family-themed shows, including Fuller House, the upcoming Gilmore Girls reboot andUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
But the hundreds of teens who came and went through the lounge were mostly pre-occupied by a different display in the corner.
There, they gathered and stood in line waiting to pose with a cardboard cutout of YouTube star Miranda Sings, the subject of Netflix's newest show: Haters Back Off.
Later that day, Miranda (who in real life is known as Colleen Ballinger) announced her series would debut in October. Fans have been counting down to the Oct. 14 ever since.
The series follows the origin story of YouTuber Miranda Sings. Ballinger created her Miranda persona — a quirky, tone-deaf wannabe singer — in 2008.
Since then, Miranda has appeared as a guest on Crackle’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffeewith Jerry Seinfeld and on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. Her book — Selp-Helf — became aNew York Times bestseller after being released in July of 2015.
"I have always wanted to tell Miranda's backstory," Ballinger told Mashable. "To me it’s so fascinating that as a YouTuber, everyone knows what we show them. No one knows what goes on when the cameras are off. I always thought, what would Miranda do in her time off?"
"I always thought, what would Miranda do in her time off?"
This isn't the first time a YouTube star has made the jump to more traditional TV. Grace Helbig had her own E! talkshow in 2014 and Todrick Hall had his own MTV series in 2015. A handful of other digital influencers have also landed gigs on traditional TV shows.
But unlike other YouTube-to-small screen series, Ballinger's Netflix show isn't just an extension of her vlog. In fact, it feels more like an extended indie comedy, or a 2016 version of Napoleon Dynamite.
The series documents the rise of Miranda, and the quirky family and friends around her that shaped her loud, unabashedly confident persona.
Steve Little (Eastbound & Down) co-stars as Miranda's overly confident and utterly misguided Uncle Jim, Angela Kinsey (The Office) as Miranda's mom Bethany, and Erik Stocklin as Miranda's neighbor and best friend Patrick.
"When Miranda first started becoming popular not many people knew who she was," Ballinger said. "People were confused by her. They thought she was a real person, I got a lot of interesting responses. And those were some of the stories I wanted to tell."
Unlike the vlog, Ballinger said the Netflix series is not based on what her viewers request in the comments. Instead, it's something she herself wanted to make.
"I love YouTube, but it was nice to do something different for a change," she said.
Ballinger developed the show with her brother Chris Ballinger, alongside Perry Rein and Gigi McCreery (both known for See Dad Run and Wizards of Waverly Place). They all serve as executive producers.
Chris Ballinger echoed Colleen, noting there were a "plethora of true stories from Miranda's early career" to draw inspiration from.
The hardest part, however, came in bringing the characters in their heads to life.
"Anytime you have characters or stories in your head for a long period of time and then have other people present their new ideas or interpretations of those things, there is a little letting go that needs to happen," Chris Ballinger told Mashable in an email interview. "That part could be tough at times. But luckily we had an incredibly collaborative, smart cast and crew who came up with amazing ways to bring even more life to these characters. In a way, we would have never been able to develop Miranda's mom or uncle as fully in the short-form videos, this was the best way to see them come to life."
In casting the ensemble, the Ballingers said improv skills were key. The duo said they lucked out with everyone who came on board.
Kinsey, an alum of The Office, hadn't even seen any Miranda Sings YouTube videos before the show. But she was intrigued by the strong writing in the pilot and the quirkiness of the characters.
"There's so much talent out there on the internet, and for YouTube stars to transition [to television] it’s not about having one character, it’s about having a world around that character that people can connect with," Kinsey said. "I read the script thinking this is just a great story of people I found really interesting."
For Colleen, the biggest challenge of creating the show was letting go of doing everything herself.
"I’ve always done YouTube myself, everything is written, edited, produced and promoted by myself," Ballinger said. "To have an entire team of people was daunting, scary, and new — but I quickly found it very rewarding. It gave me opportunity to be more creative and not worry about every little thing. Well, I still worried, but it was nice to have people helping me."
The show is the latest addition to Netflix's library of growing family content. Its release is indicative of Netflix's push into attracting younger viewers. During VidCon, Netflix also announced it has greenlit a show from popular Vine and YouTube star Cameron Dallas.
"We are really interested in elevating the YA and family space in TV," Brian Wright, director of original series for family and young adult programming, told Mashable in an email statement earlier this year. "If you get it right, you don’t limit yourself to one demo — you can get a broad cross section of kids, teens and adults."
Hulu, too, has made efforts to attract fans of YouTubers and Vine stars. It recently picked up an AwesomenessTV show called Freakish.
"I feel like Netflix and Hollywood in general are really making an effort to reach our generation," said 16-year-old Sadaf Tehranian, who was hanging out at the Netflix lounge with friends. "It's great for us but also great for them because they get a chance to be a part of something like this."
As many A-list celebrities have openly told press, working with Netflix has its perks. Ballinger felt the same level of enthusiasm.
"I always admired Netflix's business model, they are really good at what they do," she said. "I wanted to branch out and do something more mainstream in the industry, and I think the internet is the future — so it made the most sense for me to go to a network that was online."
While she is expecting her fan base to find their way to the show, she is also hoping older Netflix viewers will be open minded.
"I feel like there’s a lot of negativity around YouTubers," she said. "For people aren’t fans of YouTube, or if you don't understand the world of YouTube and the YouTube community, it's kind of looked down on in industry. I hope people can watch the show with an open mind and respect it. There are a lot of hardworking talented people on the internet who deserve to be seen... I got somehow lucky enough that Netflix is letting me do this."